Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Light-hearted All Blacks tour moments

Fairfax Media
Tuesday, 02 December 2008
They came and conquered, and we got to watch. After almost six weeks on the road, Jim Kayes and Duncan Johnstone offer a few light hearted thoughts on the All Blacks' triumphant grand slam tour.


Best Forward: Richie McCaw. You have to love anyone who really upsets the Poms. McCaw is so good at the breakdown, secure on defence and okay with the ball. The best of a very good pack.
Best back: Mils Muliaina. Baby duty saw him miss the first two tests but he showed he is the best fullback in the game against Wales and England. So safe on defence and so lethal on attack.

Most improved: Ma'a Nonu. The big bloke has been a sensation. We know he's as tough to stop as a steam roller, but the step, the pass, the kick - who'd have thought!
Best ground: Croke Park. Perhaps it was the history that added to the atmosphere but there was some special about being at the Croker. As Graham Henry would say - Just marvellous.

Marvellous moment: The Munster haka - there was only four of them, but before a silent crowd that challenged the All Blacks in a wonderfully personal way. It was awesome.
Best performance: The seven minutes against England that saw Muliaina score twice as the All Blacks raced from 12-6 to 25-6. There's nothing quite like beating England at Twickenham.

Funniest moment: My daughter has a book called Giraffes Can't Dance. I always think of it when Ali Williams does his passionate, but hilarious, haka. Good stuff.
Best opposition: Wales by a long stretch. They are the only team in Britain and Ireland trying to play decent rugby. Perhaps it comes from having a Kiwi in charge.

Best quote: "If I wasn't playing for the All Blacks, if I was playing for Southland or maybe the Highlanders, maybe I'd have thrown a couple [of punches]. I'm pretty scared of the coaches they keep me in check." - Jimmy Cowan, after the England game.

I could do without: Any more haka stories. Please, pray to whatever god you believe in that the haka doesn't get to be bigger than the game.
Cringe Moment: The bloke from adidas who, during the announcement of their new deal with the NZRU, couldn't pronounce Rodney So'oialo's name, or even get close.

Best forward:
Hats off to Ali Williams, the only player to start all 15 tests this year, a remarkable effort for someone operating in the engine room. Larger than life off the field he's grown into a world class lock and been instrumental in the All Blacks fixing their Achilles Heel, the lineout.
Best back: Ma'a Nonu has repaid the selectors faith in him, coming from being a World Cup reject to single-handedly solving the problem No 12 position. He's no longer one-dimensional, adding distribution skills and, on this tour, rock solid defence while we even saw glimpses of a promising kicking game.

Most improved: Jerome Kaino's big hits were central to an incredible defensive record by the All Blacks on this trip. The Aucklander, so inconsistent in the past, has held off strong competition with irresistible form to make the No 6 jersey his own.
Favourite moment: Joe Rokocoko's match-winner try against Munster. On a night when passion filled the air this was the only way to stop the madness that was going on all around the ground. A draw might have been the fairest result but Smokin' Joe buried 30 years of All Blacks blushes with one piece of magic.

Best performance: The second half against Wales. Graham Henry labelled it the best half of rugby this year and he might well be right. Down 9-6 at the break, they completely dominated to score 23 unanswered points.
Marvellous moment: The haka stand-off against Wales. Ma'a Nonu mightn't have like it but sometimes a stare can say more than anything and the Welsh let the All Blacks and everyone watching know they weren't going to back down.

Best quote: This one comes second-hand but reliable sources suggest an experienced and always quick-with-a-quip All Black couldn't resist when he greeted the Queen: "We've met three times now. Is that a date?"
Best opposition: Who else but Munster. Two teams without their top test players made for an even match. Fired up by a Kiwi haka Munster lived up to their rich history and played out of their skins. Wayne Smith reckoned he struggled to remember more passion and commitment from an opposition team and that says something.

I could do without: Standing in the freezing London weather waiting for the Queen. Thank goodness I'm not on the royal beat. So scripted, so many rules and regulations, so much PR.

Cringe: The Hong Kong ground announcer trying to get his tongue around the All Blacks' Polynesian names. Some things are best left unsaid.

The Facts:

Played 6, Won 6
Scored 152 points, conceded 34.
Scored 16 tries, conceded three (Australia 2, Munster 1)
Kept Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England tryless.
Lost two hookers and a halfback.
Used three different captains, Richie McCaw, Rodney So'oialo and Piri Weepu.
Watched by 359,654 spectators.

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