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Discussion points from the Bledisloe Cup

Roar Guru
5th August, 2008
68
2156 Reads

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw celebrates a 39-10 victory over the Wallabies during the Rugby Union Bledisloe Cup Australia v New Zealand rugby test match at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, August 2, 2008. AAP Image/Photosport, Andrew Cornaga

Before the Sydney test, there was much debate as to which captain was the bigger loss to his side, Mortlock or McCaw. After Sydney, it looked like the answer was McCaw. After Auckland, it is certain that the answer is McCaw.

Corollary of this: whither Mortlock, especially with all the leaguies (Cross, Tahu and perhaps Gasnier) coming on stream?

If rugby players are peaks on a stage of the Tour de France, then McCaw and Carter of Saturday night’s match are alone as “HC” (“above category”).
As anyone who watches cycling knows, it’s the HC peaks that determine who wins – the size of the other peaks does not really matter. Giteau aspires to be HC, but Saturday night illustrated – especially through his many ineffective kicks – that his peak is still a signfically smaller one in Carter’s shadow.

Corollary of this: whither New Zealand when Carter has his upcoming “sabbatical” in the south of France?

What is it about Eden Park?
Australia has not won there since 1986, and the harder they try, the worse it seems to get. In 2006 and 2007 the Wallabies were arguably the better side in matches there, but could not win. This time they weren’t that good, but they weren’t as bad as a 29-point defeat suggests.

If something could go wrong, it did, right down to the TMO absurdly awarding a bounced ball as a try in the last play of the game – even most Kiwis are admitting this was a ridiculous decision. I have noticed over the years that in cricket New Zealand often beats much better teams in tests at Eden Park, e.g. South Africa in 2004 and England in 2002.

It just seems to be a ground where visiting teams are cursed.

In cricket one can explain this through the weird alignment – players struggle with their bearings because of the pitch being at 45 degrees to the stands.

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But in rugby?

Since a match against France in 1994, the All Blacks have not lost at what is truly a “Garden of Eden” for them.

Corollary of this: will the redevelopment of Eden Park for the 2011 World Cup undo this curse for visiting teams? Or does this history make a 2011 World Cup triumph a near certainty for the All Blacks, given that both semi-finals and the final of the event will be played at this ground?

Teams are playing matches in this year’s Trinations in 3-week blocks.
A clear trend is emerging: teams play very well in their second match (e.g. South Africa in Dunedin, Australia in Sydney, New Zealand in Auckland) and very poorly in their third match in a row (e.g. South Africa in Perth, Australia in Auckland).

I suspect a sports scientist would say that the reasons for these trends are obvious: the first week is getting into the groove, the second is optimum performance, and then by the third there is exhaustion.

Corollary of this: the next block of three is South Africa hosting New Zealand, Australia and then Australia again. If the trend continues, then South Africa will be at a peak for their first match against Australia, but by the week after the tables will be turned. So will this second South Africa-Australia clash see Australia manage a rare win in the republic?

There were so many things wrong with the selection of Phil Waugh that it is hard to know where to start:

a. Most obviously he is not an international quality 6, and probably he’s not international quality full-stop. Even if McCaw outplayed George Smith, at least Smith was very much in the game and was still one of Australia’s best players.

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Waugh, on the other hand, was invisible (even allowing for his concussion).

I have maintained for a long time that Waugh’s role in international rugby is as a high-impact substitute with a specific task – usually to wreak destruction with frenzied defence – over the last 20 minutes of a match.

He’s very good at this, but that’s all. As a starting player one could argue that David Pocock is already better than Waugh.

b. Robbie Deans has successfully used two “fetchers” with the Crusaders, but that was always with positive tactical intent: to play a very fast game that tired big South African forwards.

What was he doing playing two fetchers with the purely negative tactical intent of outplaying McCaw?

In hindsight that was never going to work, because one of the things about great players is that they do not get outplayed at their own game.

This tactic would be a bit like England choosing two leg-spinners and putting on a turning wicket in the hope of outplaying Shane Warne. Or playing two beanpoles to out-jump Eales.

The way to defeat great players is to shape the game differently to the skills that make them great. This was never going to happen playing Smith and Waugh.

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c. As has been widely discussed, the Australian lineout imploded, with the selection of Smith and Waugh being a major reason for this.

All of New Zealand’s first 18 points arose because of an Australian lineout malfunction (including poor defence on New Zealand’s throws), either directly or in an immediately preceding play.

And at 18-3 the match was already lost given that it was being played in Auckland (see point 3), this even though Australia had actually been playing quite well up until that point.

Who now remembers that the first five minutes of the match were completely dominated by Australia and looked like a seamless continuation of much of the Sydney test?

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