Refs fear McCaw: Bok captain
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Springbok captain Johann Muller claimed referees were afraid of sin-binning All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw following his team's 33-6 Tri Nations defeat on Saturday.
Muller said Australian referee Stuart Dickinson should have yellow-carded the New Zealand captain for an identical offence to one that later led to the sin-binning of South Africa flanker Pedrie Wannenburg when the sides were level at 6-6.
The All Blacks scored six points while Wannenburg was off the field before running in three tries in the final 11 minutes.
"If Richie McCaw had blond hair and wore a green jersey or had dreadlocks and wore a yellow jersey he would never finish a Test," said Muller, referring to Springbok flank Schalk Burger and the Wallabies' openside George Smith.
"You want to play a fair game and you want to have a fair go at the breakdown and he [McCaw] is really making it difficult for us.
"The first infringement was down in their 22 and the words were 'playing the ball on the ground' and that was exactly the same words at the other end.
"The only extra word was 'cynical' - and I'm not exactly sure what that means."
South Africa coach Jake White agreed that the sin-binning was decisive.
"You can't play a team like the All Blacks with 14 men with their athletic ability," he said.
"If they had played with 14 men who knows what might have happened - you could tell that the crowd sensed that they weren't on their game."
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said his team had taken a step forward, despite taking 69 minutes to score their first try against a weakened South Africa who left 20 leading players at home to prepare for the Rugby World Cup.
"We played most of the rugby and looked like scoring most of the tries and probably got a bit frustrated that we didn't score early," Henry said.
"That led to a lack of patience and discipline but I think it was a good step forward."
The Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup will be decided in Auckland on Saturday when the All Blacks host the Wallabies. Both teams have nine points in the Tri Nations standings.
"There's a huge Test match next week," Henry said. "I think it's great for the game of rugby."
All Blacks envy Wallabies' settled team
Monday, July 16, 2007
THE All Blacks will cede a crucial advantage to Australia in Saturday's twin trophy-deciding match in Auckland - stability.
New Zealand looked like a side still searching for combinations and rhythm as it struggled to quell an understrength South Africa 33-6 at Jade Stadium on Saturday night.
It was the fifth-heaviest loss inflicted on the Springboks and third biggest by the All Blacks, but the performance of Graham Henry's men left further question marks over their progress.
Late tries allowed the All Blacks' coaches to paint a rosy picture of perceived improvements since the 20-15 loss to Australia two weeks ago.
Hooker Keven Mealamu didn't share the joy yesterday, however, believing a lack of rugby for some players this year and the fielding of different line-ups had stilted the All Blacks' progress.
"It's just game time at the moment; we missed out a bit in the Super 14," Mealamu said.
He looked in envy at the Wallabies, whose key players had had a full Super 14 season and had formed the core of the team in all their Tests this year. "You can certainly see the benefits …" he said. "It would be nice if we could be a bit more settled next week."
That seems unlikely, with flanker Jerry Collins and half-back Byron Kelleher sure to return, along with several other possibilities.
ABs to play Wallabies in Hong Kong John Matheson
Sunday, July 15, 2007
After a season of second-rate internationals for All Blacks' fans comes news that rugby bosses have given the green light to a Test match against the Wallabies in Hong Kong.
All Blacks supporters have been starved of quality rugby this winter with games against France "C", Canada and South Africa "C" .
Now the rugby public has been dealt another blow with few supporters likely to be able to afford tickets and accommodation packages for the Test in Hong Kong in November next year.
In a worrying trend, the game will be reduced to gimmick proportions as the Bledisloe Cup will not be up for grabs, even though it will be an official Test.
The Hong Kong game will be played either on the way to, or on the way back from, an extraordinary European jaunt with Sunday News able to reveal:
* NZRU bosses are working feverishly to add games against England and Wales to the already confirmed one-off Test against Wales and two Tests against Scotland, meaning a second Grand Slam tour in three years.
* Three mid-week games against European opposition will take place.
* A squad of epic proportions - between 40 and 50 players - will be selected for the nine game, five-week tour.
NZRU deputy CEO Steve Tew refused to be interviewed for this story, instead issuing a statement through spokesman Joe Locke.
"We're looking at a number of options for 2008 but as yet nothing has been confirmed," he said.
But an NZRU insider confirmed planning was in an "advanced" stage.
The Australian union's communications boss Brian West confirmed the two unions had been in talks for two months.
"It's on the cards," he said of the Hong Hong Test.
Sunday News has been told the ARU and NZRU originally planned to play the game on mainland China but chose Hong Kong because of the popularity of the annual Hong Kong Sevens tournament.
It's clear that after the NZRU's nose was bloodied on Thursday by their broadcasters News Ltd - angered by Graham Henry's decision to rest 22 All Blacks from the Super 14 - the union is now determined on securing its future beyond 2011 and the end of its current broadcasting deal.
The extended tour - with the first All Blacks midweek games since they toured Ireland and Scotland in 2001- is expected to bring between $10 million and $15 million profit.
The midweek fixtures are expected to be against Ireland's 2006 European champions Munster, French champions Stade Francais and either Wasps or Leicester from England's premiership.
The venues Croke Park in Dublin, Paris' Stade Francais and Twickenham in London have a combined capacity of 244,300 and the gate takings will add significantly to projected profit margins.
The planned tour flies in the face of the propaganda coming out of HQ in recent years about player burnout.
The fear is the All Blacks - already out of this year's Air New Zealand Cup because of their World Cup commitments - will now be asked to sit out a large chunk of next year's provincial championship.
And if the cynical money-making exercise comes off, it will ensure All Blacks jerseys have never been easier to earn.
Next year's side will already be without more than a dozen current All Blacks and a Tour de Farce touring party of between 40-50 players will stretch New Zealand's depleted player pool to the maximum.
"If they end up taking that many players it would be an absolute joke," former All Black Josh Kronfeld said.
Kronfeld, who played 54 Tests between 1995 and 2000, said it was already easier to become an All Black than at any other time.
"At the most, 35 players should be enough to cover the Tests and midweek games," he said.
"You don't need any more than that.
"They might as well open a packet of Weet-Bix to get their All Blacks jersey now -that's how easy it's becoming.
"Hell, I might as well make a comeback!"
Player of the Century Colin Meads - now an NZRU life member - supports the tour, if not the projected number of tourists.
"I'm all for it," he said last night.
"After the World Cup this year there will be a mass clear-out of players and the tour will allow them to experiment a bit.
"Those midweek games will be worth their weight in gold for the coach."
Coach's gloom as All Blacks fumble Steve Mcmorran
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The All Blacks moved into public relations overdrive after a halting 33-6 win over South Africa chipped away at their favouritism for this year's Rugby World Cup.
New Zealand took 69 minutes to score a try in Christchurch on Saturday against a Springboks team lacking 20 top players, and scored 21 points in the last 11 minutes to give their Tri-Nations Test win a thin veneer of authority.
Until the 69th minute, when substitute halfback Brendon Leonard took matters into his own hands and scored a dashing maiden Test try, the All Blacks had stumbled to a 12-6 lead, due entirely to the goalkicking of flyhalf Daniel Carter.
Carter finished with 23 points, including a try in stoppage time, but even his form was short of the standard New Zealand need him to achieve if they are to live up to cup favouritism in September.
A series of late substitutions spurred a cavalry charge which restored New Zealand's ascendancy after they fumbled and floundered against a third-string South African combination which produced determined but unremarkable defence.
Throughout the match, the All Blacks made 22 handling errors and conceded 26 turnovers in a performance which echoed those against France, Canada and Australia this season.
The All Blacks are averaging more than 15 handling errors per match this season and there was no evidence at Jade Stadium on Saturday they are improving, that combinations are becoming stronger or that their finishing is gaining sharpness.
Backline coach Wayne Smith ended the match with his head in his hands, with head coach Graham Henry's comforting hand on his shoulder.
Smith has constantly promised an attacking revival from the All Blacks this season, saying if only a few of the dropped passes begin to stick, New Zealand will be back to their best form of the last three years.
Smith may believe that but his body language immediately after the match suggested his confidence is fading.
When the All Blacks coaches faced reporters at a post-match news conference, they could hardly have been more bullish or more relaxed.
"There were big improvements on our last two Tri-Nations games. We played most of the rugby and would have liked to score more tries," Henry said.
Smith said the All Blacks had made "26 line breaks".
"That's significant," he said. "When we're really on our game we nail those and it's not far away."
Smith's and the All Blacks' problem is that they have only one more Test match - against Australia in Auckland next weekend - before the World Cup starts in France in September. It is likely few All Blacks will play another match between the Tri-Nations decider and the start of cup pool play.
How the All Blacks are going to improve, without opportunities to play and to sharpen combinations has not been clearly explained.
The only man at Saturday's news conference who had a real reason for optimism was forwards coach Steve Hansen, who again watched his players form a dominant scrum and effective lineout.
The All Blacks' work at breakdowns was passable and they cleared ball as fast as frequent tackled ball violations by both sides would allow.
The backline is the All Blacks' Achilles heel and Smith's forced optimism contrasted sharply with the general disapproval of New Zealand fans, who were easily able to see its weakness.
Carter, despite his 23 points, remains below par. He was reluctant to attack the Springbok line and preferred to clear the ball downfield, even when promising attacking chances developed.
The midfield is the crisis spot. Centres Luke McAlister and Isaia Toeava, in spite of constant promotion by Smith and Henry, lack the maturity and consistency of a topline Test partnership.
McAlister made two searing linebreaks on Saturday but neither led to tries because he either didn't offload or passed badly. Toeava, an obvious work in progress, still runs laterally and fails to pass when support is available.
The New Zealand backline glaringly lacks leadership and intelligence. When Leonard, Nick Evans and lawyer Conrad Smith took the field late, the performance of the backline improved exponentially.
Leonard replaced the ineffective Piri Weepu, who brings the instincts of a rugby league player to the scrumhalf role. Smith immediately focused the backline with his intelligence and steadiness at centre and Evans scored a superb solo try when he replaced Doug Howlett on the wing.
Blacks slam lid on Boks Chris Foley
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Three converted tries in the final 12 minutes carried the All Blacks to a 33-6 win over the Springboks last night.
The win put New Zealand level with Australia at the head of the Tri Nations and set the stage for a classic showdown when the two teams meet in Auckland next weekend, with both the Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup on the line.
But if the All Blacks were looking to settle their World Cup preparations with a confidence-boosting performance against a Springbok "B" team, they would have been disappointed.
Despite an overwhelming advantage with possession against a Springboks side who had left their top 20 players at home, for much of the game the All Blacks were uninspiring in attack.
They were unable to find a way through the swarming South African defence led by Wynand Olivier and Waylon Murray.
And on the rare occasions they did make telling breaks, the subsequent overlap was lost by an inaccurate pass.
While coach Graham Henry declared himself "reasonably" happy, he believed that with the abundance of ball the All Blacks enjoyed they should have produced a more substantial victory.
"We played most of the rugby," he said. "We looked like scoring most of the tries, I would have thought, and probably got a bit frustrated that we didn't score earlier and that probably led to a wee bit more impatience and lack of discipline early.
"I think that's a fair reflection - we could have scored another couple [of tries]."
Springboks coach Jake White made no apologies for resting his top players.
"I don't think the scoreline was a true reflection of the game itself, and I'm obviously disappointed with the last 20 minutes," he said.
"I think the lesson learned here was the strength and depth of getting guys off the bench and the impact they make in the last 15 to 20 minutes … you win games with the 22 in the squad, not just the 15 who start."
NEW ZEALAND 33 (B Leonard, N Evans, D Carter tries; Carter 4 pens, 3 goals) beat SOUTH AFRICA 6 (D Hougaard 2 pens).