Monday, November 29, 2010

Keith Quinn: Exhausted All Blacks excel
By Keith Quinn in Cardiff
Sunday November 28, 2010
Source: ONE Sport

Although there were some signs that Welsh rugby might be about to rally and push on for glory in Cardiff today, in the end that glory did not happen for the Scarlets.

The 2010 All Blacks, under coach Graham Henry and captain Richie McCaw, continued to expand their ability to create more point production and positive play and exert their superior fitness over the other UK and Irish teams. In Cardiff a Grand Slam of victories over England, Scotland and Ireland was eventually clinched over Wales by 37-25.

The result on the scoreboard looks convincing enough and was underscored by a 5-1 try-scoring margin. But like England and Ireland before them on this tour the Welsh showed a creditable attitude to want to run the ball at the All Blacks and make the game a spectacle. The game became a true Test match battle.

Once again the All Blacks showed commendable patience under fire and also superb late conditioning which led to the strong finish.
Wales had an excellent middle of the game when they shut down New Zealand's attackers and had many a thrust themselves.

Tom Shanklin was very assertive in the midfield for Wales while Ryan Jones, who had a shocker against Fiji last week, was prominent until he was surprisingly subbed by coach Warren Gatland after only 50 minutes of play. Alun Wyn Jones was a feisty lock who never took a backward step and in fact led many a tussle between the two packs. But it was all good stuff.

There were two points in the second half when Kiwi fans would have held their breaths. Twice the game was teeter-totter. At 51 minutes Daniel Braid was correctly sent to the sin bin when he held on under a pile up of bodies. Referee Alan Lewis of Ireland awarded a penalty and Stephen Jones landed his fourth goal. That made it 13-12.

Straight away the Welsh optimism was taken away when New Zealand piled on speed, teamwork and skill, after a Conrad Smith break out, and after a 60 metre burst the team put Hosea Gear in at the corner for his second try. Dan Carter who had earlier missed four kicks landed the sideline conversion and the Welsh optimism at 12-13 behind suddenly had become 12-20 and they were again two scores behind.

Yet they never gave up. After a Carter penalty at the 60 minute mark the referee offered Wales two further kickable penalties which Stephen Jones gladly took. And suddenly it was only 23-18. The Welsh were in touch with the New Zealand total once more.

When play resumed Dan Carter, definitely having a mixed day, kicked out on the full and Wales had a good position and scrum chance. There was a clear 12 minutes for them to construct a famous victory. We wondered - could they confirm their promise with a strong finish?

Alas for them their winning chances came to nought from that point.
When Jerome Keino made a powerhouse break out run 'up the guts' of the field you could sense a change coming. The All Blacks went on to fashion a 14 point finish in the last ten minutes thanks to two converted tries, both very well taken.

One was by the always aggressive winger Isaia Toeava and the other by the rumbling replacement prop John Afoa. The Welsh commendably kept attacking to the end and they did get a consolation try to their enterprising fullback Lee Byrne.

At the final whistle, like the winning scores of 26-16 over England and 38-18 over Ireland, there was a hint that the final margin over Wales of 37-25 was slightly flattering to the All Blacks.
The end signalled the winning of the fourth Grand Slam by the New Zealand team and suddenly the winter tour jackets given out at the trip's beginning to all of our Williment Sport Travel supporters were deemed definitely appropriate at last. All tour our trip had been billed as a 'Grand Slam' tour. It had said so on our winter jackets. Now it had been confirmed!

Our people stayed in the stand and waved furiously for an acknowledgement from the team. Sure enough around the field they trooped, limply waving back. They looked knackered every one of them, especially captain McCaw who looked quite dazed and even a bit bashed up as he fell behind his mates and cut an exhausted figure, still perhaps suffering from a tough-looking head high hit late in the game which had gone unchecked by the referee.

Some key points from the game;

* By his own standards Dan Carter had a modest time. He missed four kicks at goal, had a 'nothing' kick off to start the second half; earlier he had had an attempted kick to touch clipped by the heels for being too slow; then later he kicked out on the full at a key point in the game. On yet another occasion he cost the team three points when he failed to release after making a tough tackle. Like McCaw, our star man looks in need of the quality time at the beach.

* However one could not quibble at him becoming the world's greatest Test points scorer. It took only eight minutes for him to pass Jonny Wilkinson's previous world record total of 1178 points. Carter ended the year on 1188 points. He scored 12 points today from three conversions and two penalties.

* If you've been a regular reader here you will have noted my earlier sharpness concerning the play of long time fullback Mils Muliaina. Too often I had felt he had not played for the emblem on the front of his black jersey but more rather for his own name symbolically printed on the back. Too often he has run into a movement but has died with the ball when free space and runners have been waiting outside. This game though, he was fine. Early on he was back to his old tricks. He held on and was caught by Welsh defence when two men were waiting for his outside pass. Did someone in the team have a word to him? ('Greedy bastard' would have been appropriate) Thereafter he gave a full team performance and therefore it gets my tip as his best show of the tour. When 'Milsy,' (the supporters only use first names when calling out to the NZ players), latched onto a reverse pass in the midfield from Dan Carter and raced away to score it was an excellent try, one of four or five he has scored like that this season. So more of that from him and he will keep out Cory Jane and Israel Dagg next year. If he doesn't I for one will be back on his case again.

* The Sonny Bill Williams story came to a slightly faltering end in Cardiff. He made several early off-loads (that's what we call his unique passing style) but then went AWOL for a long middle period. He was not sighted anywhere much. It wasn't surprising coach Henry took him out of the game. For perhaps the first time on this tour SBW looked a little lost in the rugby union game. He never fired a shot of significance.

* I have stated before that I believe that in his early life Richie McCaw received too much easy praise from media supporters and blindly loyal fans. Sure he was always prominent and he always looked a million dollars but I far prefer him now as a flanker and leader. In Cardiff not only did he switch to play the majority of the game in the unaccustomed position of a Number 8 forward (Kieran Read having limped off) but McCaw remained prominent throughout. In the critical moments of the second half he twice took important lineout takes, and also two high-ball pressure catches. Another time he crashed up field with the ball joining a thrilling New Zealand run. McCaw also captains now with more assertive authority. In this game for instance he was in regular discussion on the field with Mr Lewis and the words to his team during the game look measured and assured. You will recall when the team assembled at halfway in Hong Kong at the end of their loss to Australia and he was seen on camera gesturing to the lads to 'keep their chins up' they did just that for him and gave him a deserved Grand Slam for the second time. In this game it was hard to recognise the captain as being the same one who had been in Cardiff, and so anonymous, against France in the World Cup in 2007.

* Two other points;
1) the lighting at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is too flat. It seemed almost twilight for the playing of this game. This might not have been noticeable on the TV coverage but to this writer and others around me there was no 'sparkle' in the light like one sees at other games. It needs to be looked at by the authorities. It was snowing outside in Cardiff so there were many advantages in having the roof closed. By why have an artificial 'approaching nightfall' look coming from the lighting towers?

* And point 2) I would like to suggest Alan Lewis, the referee, might now be in the twilight of his career. The programme listed him as a 46-year old, so it is commendable he is still fit and active. But he seems often now to allow the game to be slowed so that he can maximise his own recovery time. I noted this earlier in the year when he controlled the Tri Nations game at Eden Park when the All Blacks really hit their straps. He could not keep up. In Cardiff he allowed the Welsh forwards to saunter and meander to every line out. Not a peep from him was heard about this creeping cancer in the game. If teams like the All Blacks want to play at high speed they must be permitted to surely. So where now do we place the 2010 All Black team in our rugby history? I would have them listed very highly indeed. Their play, especially in the Tri Nations series this year moved their needle of excellence up to a higher level. Some of the early form against South Africa and Australia was breathtaking and I believe a new way to play the game was uncovered and enlightened.

I loved watching them play and the manner by which they presented themselves to their public both on and off the field. A hugely successful season,
Look out here on for my view about where the 2010 team stands in a fuller All Black history.


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