Friday, June 08, 2007

News before Saturday's test (tvnz)
Press conference with Graham and Richie.
The sound isn't very good (can't do much about it...)

All Blacks on cusp of record

Jun 8, 2007
By Michael Burgess

Scratching your head for that TAB margin? See below for exclusive TVNZ expert predictions.
The All Blacks look set to extend a seven year unbeaten streak against the Six Nations champions France in Wellington on Saturday.
There is less mystery about the European side after the first test in Auckland and New Zealand coach Graham Henry will hope his men bring more magic to their game this week.
France has not beaten the All Blacks since a 42-33 reverse in Toulouse in 2000, and the Southern hemisphere team has been dominant in the last eight games, including four played on French soil.
There is little to indicate that there will be any change in the trend on Saturday, but still plenty to interest both sets of fans.
The All Blacks will be looking for a vast improvement on last week's effort against the French.
The 42-11 score line, which was the second heaviest defeat the New Zealand side have inflicted on the Tricolors, flattered the home side who failed to convert a mountain of territory and possession into points, or at least scoring opportunities.
There was also concern over the set pieces, notably the scrum in the first stanza and the lineout throughout the match.
Captain Richie McCaw has alluded to disquiet about aspects of their defence. While the defensive screen was generally solid, there was a number of sniping breaks made by the French and they scored probably the best try of the match, from one of only two genuine scoring opportunities that they had over the 80 minutes.
So what can we expect from this week's game?
A rejigged New Zealand forward pack should dominate their European counterparts. Hurriances enforcer Jerry Collins will add defensive starch and attacking power to the mix. Ruben Thorne, the 'invisible man' who won't disappear, does bring clever link play and cover defence to number six as he reads the game well - but the contest against this French team does not readily call for these attributes.
Keith Robinson will enhance the lineout and bring some added mongrel, while Anton Oliver as always feels like the debutant yet again with something to prove. Rodney So'oialo impressed at the back end of the first test and should be a more effective option than an out of sorts Chris Masoe at the back of the scrum. And hopefully an 80 minute game from Captain Richie McCaw will see the All Black pack bring their 'A' game to the Cake Tin.
The performance of the backline is of perhaps greater interest, and for fans and the coaches alike, a larger source of worry. With a surfeit of possession, there was a lack of sharpness from numbers 10 - 15 at Eden park. Leon McDonald looks less like a World Cup winning fullback with every outing, and Mauger and Toeva didn't combine as anticipated.
New first five eighths Nick Evans direct running style will trouble the French, who lack pace in the loose trio. At second five Luke McAlister also favours a direct approach, and while he is less subtle than Aaron Mauger his clever footwork and pace will keep the opposition guessing. They will both enjoy smooth distribution from the feisty Byron Kelleher.
Expect judicious use of Collins and co running off Evans and McAllister through inside channels, typical sniping runs from Kelleher and then looking wide to a rejuvenated Sitavatu and revitalised Rokocoko.
France will come to Wellington at once confident and determined, but also fearful. There is a general feeling they played above themselves in Auckland, with a team of veterans and debutants fresh off a long flight from Europe. But they also have more to lose this time round and don't possess the element of surprise.
The Bernard Laporte coached side will keep it tight and know they can't match the All Blacks for pace if the game becomes too open. Look for more of the controversial go-slow tactics from the men in blue and a steady territory based game.
The renowned French flair has become a bit of a misnomer in recent years, and seems to be a hang-up from the days of Serge Blanco, Phillipe Sella et al, the memory of 1994 with 'the try from the end of the earth' and the 1999 Twickenham come-back from the dead. French first-fives kick as often as their much maligned counterparts of the home nations and their tactics are based more around power and set piece than pace or precision.
It is difficult to ascertain what impact the personnel changes will have on the French performance. What we can say with certainty is that it should be a fitter, stronger effort (with jet lag no longer a factor) and more cohesiveness from a squad with game time and training sessions under their belt.
There appears to be widespread postivity at the appointment of referee Craig Joubert, who has the respect of the players and is surely a better option than the seriously pedantic Stuart Dickinson. And let us hope that TMO George Ayoub does not turn the game into some kind of comedy farce. Last week he gave the impression that he was channel surfing during the decision process and more of the same will see "Be with you soon Stewie" become a Tui ad and folkloric saying around Kiwi barbecues.
Look for Collins to negate the impact of French wild man Chabal early and dominance to be asserted in the tight five once again. Increased fluidity at the scrum base and crispness in the backline are the key goals for the AB's and it is hard to see the Tricolours staying with the New Zealand side much past the half hour mark.
Expect the home side to establish a new world record of 23 consecutive wins on their own turf (eclipsing the mark set by the World Cup winning English team of 1999-2003 - hopefully an omen) with a convincing victory in Wellington.
The French will improve, that is for sure, but their best hope is surely for a continued downturn in the lower North Island weather, which would level things up and stifle hopes of a free flowing game.

TVNZ 'expert' predictions

Simon Dallow - All Blacks 50 - 13 France
Stephen Stuart - All Blacks 38 - 3 France
Peter Williams - All Blacks 37 - 16 France
Chris Mirams (ONE News sports editor) - All Blacks 52 - 10 France
John Whiting ( league guru) - All Blacks 48 - 12 France
Michael Burgess ( rugby editor) - All Blacks 45 - 12 France
Alan Granville ( sports editor) - All Blacks 40 - 24 France
Trish Booth ( news producer and rugby fanatic) - All Blacks 56 - 9 France

All Blacks coach backtracks (video)

That's sad... All Black hero switches to soccer

Jun 8, 2007
By Michael Burgess

All Black legend Sean Fitzpatrick is so bored with international rugby he is considering watching 'soccer'.
The retired hooker, now residing in the UK, is fed up with watching weakened national rugby teams do battle in seemingly meaningless games.
In his weekly column in a New Zealand national newspaper he opined - "I find myself thinking I'd rather watch Chelsea or Manchester United."
I imagine FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the rest of his henchmen in Switzerland are doing cartwheels at this news.
Why does this become a headline? Is it a sad reflection on the small minded nature of the New Zealand sporting landscape?
Can you imagine a day when Zinedine Zidane comes out with a parallel observation? The French football legend saying he won't bother sitting through Les Bleus latest international and is instead looking forward to Western Force vs Waikato Chiefs after discovering the Super 14 during a spot of late night channel surfing.
At one level, Fitzpatrick's point is well made. He yearns for rugby's golden years and rightly fears for the future of international rugby as a spectacle. The ex-all black captain can see a day where clubs become all powerful, devaluing international union.
But it is surely more than a little patronising to suggest that he may even stoop to watching Chelsea or Manchester United, rather than the latest C-grade international.
Is football such a dire alternative?
Rugby players, administrators and fans wrestle with a strange superiority/inferiority complex in this country. Their sport is, and always will be, numero uno, in terms of media coverage, corporate support and grabbing the heart and soul of the average Kiwi. Every now and again other national squads - such as the Silver Ferns in 2005, the 1985 Kiwis, the Tall Blacks of five years ago or a victorious Team Zealand in Valencia - capture our imagination - but it is always relatively fleeting.
The 15-man game is deeply and permanently entrenched in the national psyche - of that there is no doubt.
Land of the Long Dark Cloud
Just think, heaven forbid, if the William Webb Ellis trophy is not returned to its 'rightful' place on New Zealand shores in 2007.
Aotearoa will once again be the Land of the Long Dark Cloud.
So why does Rugby in New Zealand need to put the boot in to other sports - especially Football and Rugby League?
No other national sport feels the need to be so preoccupied and obsessed with their minor rivals.
You would have to spend a long time in Rio to hear Brazilian football chiefs having a lash at Volleyball and it is doubtful that Major League Baseball executives in the USA feel the need to make comments about the quality of Ice Hockey or popularity of lacrosse.
Cherish your game, enjoy your sport - and celebrate differences
Fitzpatrick has become an astute media commentator in the time since he retired from the game in 1997. And the All Black legend is obviously enjoying life in the UK and has gained a sense of the importance of football in Britain.
But he has got his hands caught in the ruck with some of these comments.
Rather be watching Chelsea or Manchester United? So would 3.9 billion people Sean.


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