Monday, April 30, 2007

Brumbies show the way to beat NZ (hum hum hum...)

If any World Cup coach wants to learn how to upset the All Blacks, he should replay the tape of the Brumbies-Crusaders match.

Until their loss in Canberra, the Crusaders had won their last six matches and averaged 29 points a game - almost double the Brumbies' 16.

Yet, even though the Brumbies' attack has been as exciting as a Clydesdale in a 1200m sprint at Riccarton, their defence has been the best in the Super 14.

The rain may have curtailed the Crusaders' lust for throwing the ball wide, but the Brumbies' trust in their defence and each other kept the Crusaders try-less for the first time since the loss to the Lions on February 18.

The All Blacks are still hotly favoured to win the Webb Ellis Cup, but the Brumbies' effort against a side containing World Cup certainties Richie McCaw and Dan Carter has flagged how their foes can trip them up.

South African referee Marius Jonker's yellow carding of McCaw for knocking down a pass may have been dubious, but it signalled he was not intimidated by the Crusader skipper's reputation.

Against Wales last year, McCaw was sin-binned by English referee Dave Pearson for the first time in his All Blacks career. The World Cup, in September and October, may be played in similar wet conditions.

The rain could suffocate the All Blacks' attacking plays and the referees, if manipulated by other coaches, may be over-zealous in ruling against McCaw's tactics.

It was largely a weekend to forget for New Zealand's Super 14 teams. The Hurricanes stuttered their way to an uninspiring win over the Highlanders and the knee injury to lock Jason Eaton, who joins James Ryan in rehabilitation for the rest of the year, undermines the depth of second rowers.

Crusaders second rower Chris Jack is still sidelined with a hamstring injury, while Ali Williams cannot even make the Blues' starting line-up.

There is little to celebrate in watching the Blues' slowly disintegrate. Springboks coach Jake White is certain to take heart from the way the Bulls ripped them apart, while All Blacks coach Graham Henry must be wondering about such lack of form close to the finals.

His run in to the Tri Nations, and the World Cup, may not be as smooth as first thought. With France expected to field a second-string side (because of leading players in club finals) in May, followed by a one-off test against Canada, the All Blacks risk entering the Tri-Nations under-cooked.

Henry has gambled by placing his 22 top players in cotton wool for half the Super 14. So far, it is hard to see how it has paid off.

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