Monday, July 30, 2007

Other ABs news (on Rugby heaven)

Blacks good enough

Duncan Johnstone
Sunday, July 29, 2007

DAVID Kirk, the only All Blacks captain to lift the William Webb Ellis Cup, believes Graham Henry's squad is good enough to end New Zealand's 20-year drought at rugby's showpiece event.

But Kirk, who led the All Blacks to World Cup glory on home soil in 1987, conceded they still had to deal with the pressure of expectation, expanding their game as the tournament unfolds, settling on a midfield combination, and getting aggressive performances from a pack he rates the best in the game.

"The players are definitely good enough to win the World Cup," he said. "Whether we have the right plan we will know as the tournament unfolds. The preparation has been good, I think they have selected the right players. But in the end you have to do it on the day when it really matters."

Kirk conceded the All Blacks had not been on top of their game this year. He believed they had been doing enough to win games and major trophies without giving too much away before the tournament.

"I certainly think he [Henry] doesn't want to be playing the best rugby now," Kirk said.
"It's a real trap to go into a World Cup playing brilliantly and then find you fall a bit flat."

Kirk said the 2007 side's preoccupation with razzle-dazzle rugby would succeed only if the forwards laid the platform for such adventurous play.
In his interviews, Richie often remind the journalists the (huge) number of sleep-less nights he's had since the semi final lost against Australia in 2003, thinking about 'Why did the ABs lose?"
But nobody has ever asked him how many times he has been dreaming of becoming the new David Kirk -or better, the first Richie Mccaw (or, as Rose said once : King Richard VII) ...
Dans plusieurs entretiens, Richie a souvent dit qu'il avait passe nombres de nuits blanches a refaire la demi finale de 2003.
Mais personne ne lui a encore pose la question sur le nombre de fois auxquelles il a reve de devenir le deuxieme David Kirk -ou plutot le premier Richie McCaw (et encore mieux, comme l'a dit Rose : le Roi Richard VII)...
All Blacks on the slide: British media

Duncan Johnstone
Saturday, July 28, 2007

The northern scribes are rounding on the All Blacks ahead of the World Cup, suggesting Graham Henry's side is on the slide just when it matters most.

The All Blacks' patchy Tri Nations form hasn't been lost on the men with the pens in Britain as rugby's showpiece draws closer.

The old question of New Zealand's timing with their form and game-plan is again being raised as the All Blacks look to end a 20-year drought at the World Cup in France in September and October.

Even former England flyhalf Stuart Barnes, normally a warm admirer of the All Blacks, is starting to point the finger.

Writing a column in the respected Times newspaper, Barnes said: "Apart from 10 magnificent minutes in Durban, the All Blacks have slipped from a position of overwhelming superiority to merely the leaders of the pack.

"The New Zealand of 2005 and 2006 would have waltzed the 2007 World Cup; this side remain favourites but the gap in the field appears to be narrowing.

"New Zealand had a vice-like mental grip on the rest of the world, such was their superiority but the evidence of this (Tri Nations) series of rugby suggests that the odds-on favourites are now only such a short price because of recent history. World Cups are won in the here and now and while no side is exactly improving at an exponential rate, New Zealand has a look of slippage about them.

"This New Zealand side has an attack stringing itself like pearls all across the pitch. All too often forwards are getting in the way of the backs and Dan Carter is losing his running edge because defenders, not altogether surprisingly, tend to concentrate on him when they look up and see Tony Woodcock and Chris Jack, representatives of the front five, standing opposite - flat and unthreatening.
"Incisive attack has been replaced by looping and lateral ball retention. It could yet behead the All Blacks' hopes before what has long seemed a likely coronation. The change in their game is regressive. The accuracy of first phase moves has disappeared and with it their aura.

"New Zealand have the most talented squad of players in the world - there's no doubt about it - but then again so they did in the lead-up to the 1995, 1999 and 2003 World Cups, none of which they won."

Former Welsh flanker John Taylor is another who is starting to question that aura of invincibility the All Blacks have generated over the past three years as they reclaimed the N.o 1 world ranking and marched through Europe unbeaten under the guidance of Henry.

"A third straight Tri Nations, Bledisloe Cup winners for the sixth year in a row, a world record 26 consecutive home victories - take those statistics at face value and you would have to say New Zealand have confirmed their status as overwhelming favourites for Rugby World Cup," said Taylor in his column for

"I'm not so sure. The other would be contenders will all have noted some chinks in the All Blacks' armour; somehow they don't appear quite so invincible - I think their Tri Nations rivals and the European teams will have been encouraged by the events of the last five weeks.

"Australia's victory in Melbourne, South Africa's front-running for an hour in Durban and the All Blacks' total of only 8 tries in 4 matches show the gap has narrowed considerably.

"The air of total dominance has gone; you never felt it was only a matter of time before the All Blacks suddenly upped the pace and ripped the opposition defence apart; you never believed they were in a class of their own. At this stage last year the rest of the world feared just that."

Taylor believes the loss of Tana Umaga through retirement has been a major blow to the All Blacks. And with no successor permanently anointed, it's hard to argue with him on that front.

Here's what he said about that in his column: "I am certain Henry wanted Umaga to remain as captain until after the World Cup and New Zealand's attacking edge behind the scrum has been severely blunted by his retirement from international rugby. McCaw might be his natural successor but he is very much a leader of the pack. Nobody has been able to assume Umaga's leadership mantle in the back division.

"New Zealand backlines have always been at their most effective when they have had a focal figure to call the shots. They are of a type - big, hard as teak but with a razor sharp rugby brain. Frank Bunce did the job in the early and mid 90s, Daryl Gibson carried it on and then Umaga took it to new heights.

"Without Umaga they are definitely not as powerful in attack (or defence). It is yet another ray of hope; New Zealand are definitely not as far ahead as they were this time last year but they are still the team to beat."

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