Thursday, July 21, 2016

State of the game

The state of the game is New Zealand.  A Super format that has done us no favours, in a draw where we play each other twice, and a sole home quarter final up for grabs?  But maybe the silver lining is much thicker than we thought.  The NZ Super franchise bases love the derbies because they pack the house.  The players absolutely bash each other.  And they can all play helter skelter. And what we are seeing is a level of rugby never seen before.  The New Zealand Super teams have taken rugby to a new level.  Constant game time versus each other and a only large handful with, for example, the South African teams has left the Saffers trailing the game once again.  The Kiwi teams, for once, hit the ground running and have only improved since.

Just a quick gloss over because I can't be bothered writing more.

The Highlanders

Their ABs are on song, both Smiths are commanding well and the recent new caps add yet more leadership and experience to an already bonded squad.  Aaron Smith is Deadeye Dick with his boxkicking. Luke Whitelock vs Liam Squire for the starting 8 berth!!

Players that would make any other international team:

Patrick Osbourne. Trained with the ABs, a big, hard, sensible, intelligent winger. Could do with another yard of pace.  Recently signed with Tonga.
Matt Faddes.  What a find! An absolute gem has been turned up and he's already the polished goods. Started at wing has proven more than adept at centre or 15.
Richard Buckman.  Currently out injured but a little in the Faddes mode with a little less X-factor and a harder nose, never stops trying.

Be loving that mullet down south

The Crusaders

Naholo helped them get some go forward and recover their mojo a couple of seasons back and though he won't be there this weekend and he will be missed they are more than capable.  Dagg is back to his best and has been the form 15 throughout this season of Super Rugby,  The calming influence of the wise old heads such as Crotty and Ellis has been immeasurable and the loss of the #9 this weekend is as big a blow as Nadolo.

Players that would make any other international team:

Johnny McNicholl. A real livewire winger, pounces on anything, can cover 15.
Jordan Taufua. Not the biggest but powerful, dynamic and skillful.
Jimmy Tupou? Getting there.

Richie Mo'unga has passed his 1st Super Rugby season with flying colours

The Hurricanes

Kid Barrett has taken another step forward with consistency and catapulted his game to new heights. Being thumped by the Brumbies first game up, 2 losses from 2 rounds then losing Milner-Skudder for the season in the third, things didn't look good for last season's minor premiers (and deserved champions).  But Barrett grabbed the reins and, with Coles and co doing the work up front, is leading opposition teams on a merry chase. In Ardie Savea are we seeing something special?

Players that would make any other international team:

No sure things perhaps I'd go with Matt Proctor, Blade Thomson, Reggie Goodes, Jason Woodward and Willis Halaholo.

Don't take your guns to town, boy....don't take your guns to town

The Chiefs

Undoubtedly the most dynamic non stop attacking machine in the Super competition.  That smiling assassin is the face of who the Chiefs are and what they do. Looking still nothing more than a plucky little schoolkid this whizzkid is burning fields up and the Stormers are going to have their hands full trying to contain him on their made -for-running grounds in the Republic.  Cane is leading from the front but I figure his days in the black jersey are numbered.  Despite his huge workrate he lacks the ball skills considered necessary to be an AB loosie and sometimes his decision making goes awry. In Lowe, Ngatai and Tamanivalu you have 3 more new All Black recruits and with capped AB Weber one of the form 9s of the comp the Chiefs' backline is humming.

Players that would make any other international team:

Andrew Horrell. Quite capable of playing anywhere in the backline and still finding gaps.
Anton Lienert-Brown. 2nd5 that can cover every other position wider out.  Must be on the ABs' radar.
James Lowe. A big boy, highly skilled with a never say die competitive edge.

Pair this guy up with Moala, 13 and 12 respectively. Voilá, AB midfield

The Blues

I was surprised when Umaga didn't find space for Hamish Northcote when selecting his squad this year.  All X-factor players meant yet another season of fumbling and bumbling.  But then along came Piers Francis.  And gone was Rene Ranger (big a fan as I am but his injury was a blessing for the Blues. Coming back as the experienced pro he had to show the youngsters how it should be done. Instead we got error after error after error. Inexcusable lack of ball retention all game long. Anyway....back to the point).  With George Moala having time to settle into 13, Nanai igniting his season, and Francis applying some steady to the tiller, the Blues started to get over the hill. My personal opinion is Moala at 12. Had a lot of unfair criticism aimed his way but he has truly been a rock for the Blues in midfield this year. He's the All Blacks' next Nonu if they decide to go with their tried and tested, "get out of jail free" card, a go forward 12.  For all Fekitoa's excitement he is a liability in defence and at times has no idea who he should be taking. Big up to Steven Luatua,having a huge season. Bryn Hall gets some unfair criticism, I like his quick delivery but needs work on his box kicking.  Expect the Crusaders to bring out the best of him. Tuipulotu is a mass of pure muscle but has to cut his error rate down while Charlie Faumuina continues to amaze critics worldwide with his ballskills. The Blues missed the Ioane brothers but we should see something special start to kick in next season and who knows what gifts the wind may bring during the offseason.  

Players that would make any other international team:

Melani Nanai. This guy is really turning tricks.  Took over 15 from the underperforming Visinia and has made every post a winner.  Was doing the same thing on the wing. Keep this up for another season and he's got All Black written all over him.
Possibly Pita Ahki. And of course both the Ioane boys.  Riko is going to be a star.

Nanai, pure class

Bit low on international class forwards, no, but not many "walk-ins".  And while we may take our ball playing props anyday scrummaging ability is first and foremost in other nations. Except Australia.

So the odds on NZ having 4 teams in the semis this weekend?  Well you have to back the Hurricanes in Wellington. Forget past results, this Hurricanes has more self belief than ever. The Brumbies at home are not the force they were and the Highlanders have their A-game on. The Stormers have been playing in a soft competition and have still struggled to dominate.  Taking on the free running Chiefs may be too much for their lungs.  Lions Crusaders is one that I feel could go either way.  How much will the Crusaders miss Nadolo? Will the Lions be underdone fault of their weaker conference?
Smart money would be on each of the NZ teams.  But then there are also the refs...

Then will it be watch out world?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Old men and and one trick ponies

Once again spouting confidence from some meaningless victory.  This time against the American second stringers.  A South Africa with misplaced confidence is a weak South Africa. Let's be honest.  The Jarpies have had a disastrous few years culminating in their loss to Japan.  Who would want the poisoned chalice that is the national rugby union team? I'm not a hater of Heneke Meyer but he got to where he is on the back of a Bulls pack that used to outmuscle their position and an almost flawless 1st5 (when it comes to kicking!).  The Boks have always shown a stubbornness to move on from this suffocating (for everyone, also world rugby fans) game plan.  They no longer have a pack that can win a top tier game on their own.

They have a habit of sticking with their tried and trusted(?).  Same goes for the retention of players.  While New Zealand is constantly on the ball trying, testing, developing talent, eradicating weaknesses and preparing players for that step up, the Republic seem to have their heads in the sand.

MornĂ© Steyn took a long time to start heading to the exit door.  Constantly criticised by their inability to open a game up they refute this on the back of 50 point wins once breaking the will of lesser opposition and running in 3 or 4 tries in the final half hour.  Steyn is the best proof you have that they have never let go.  Another that owes his longevity and success to the Bulls dour gameplan.

Schalk Burger will alway remain one of my favourite all time players.  Blonde hair, elbows, shoulders and knees flying into breakdowns is a classic sight and he was truly a menace to all teams.  A true old school player that would have been an even bigger legend in the Colin Meads era. He fought his way back from his recent deathbed to reclaim a Springbok jersey but should he still be there today?  His influence is a mere shadow of what he used to bring to the table.  He isn't the player he once was.

The irrepressible Schalk

Captain JP De Villiers.  A knee injury that would have probably spelt his retirement if there hadn't been the challenge of the looming World Cup.  Then back on the field and a broken jaw.  De Villiers has been an outstanding servant to the worldwide game, a true gentleman, but the Boks have shown they have 2 dangerous youngsters.  A depleted captain and player in every sense, he backed up for the cup about 10kg below his normal playing weight.  His loss is a blessing.  Not the player he once was.

Fourie Du Preez was justifiably rated the world's premier #9 for a long time (I remember Graham Henry laxing lyrical eons ago).  Now, in a similar vein to the apparent brimming confidence gained from the US victory, he's back in form?  Time will tell.  An opposition pack achieving somewhere around parity will give us more insight there.  Not the player he once was but possibly still deserving of his squad and starting role spot.

Victor Matfield, lineout kingpin.  Well,....former kingpin.  That mantle seems to sit with the All Blacks' Sam Whitelock now.  Your true one trick pony.  White men can jump.  But this one can't do much else.  I always maintained the best way to stifle a South African attack was to make sure Matfield had inserted himself into the backline somewhere. And one of the weakest ball carrying forwards seen at this level.  South Africa LET GO!!  His injury/ommission is an obvious windfall.  2 huge,bustling young bulls add some real grunt to the engine room when paired up.  Probably still the same player he always was, except for not being quick enough to even put in his late hits.  Apart from jumping there isn't anything else to live up to.  Old enough to be team manager.

This is the closest I could find to an action shot

Bryan Habana our other one trick pony.  South Africa was still giving him player of the year awards when he should of just been a bag carrier to the national team.  He had wheels.  He still has some reasonable pace but what else does he bring? Without that extra metre his chip and regather seems to have deserted him.  Without anything resembling space he becomes a passenger in a team that can't create for their outsides.  Should have been long gone from the Springboks. Not the player he once was.

Weeeee!! look at me! I'm gonna break the record for most World Cup tries on the back of games against crap teams like this 2nd string American lineup.
No way are they going to go all the way.  They will have trouble against a Welsh team with a severe limp.  But then again they did win the '07 edition with possibly the worst Springbok team there has ever been.  Definitely the weakest World Champions to date.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

#RUGBYWORLDCUP2015: Quarter final show downs

South Africa v Wales

No questions as to what the Boks are going to attempt to bring to the party.  It's going to be a destroy mission upfront and they will try to steamroll a severly winged Welsh outfit.  But they haven't shown the ability to bring their one and only gameplan all year and once again, like clockwork, they spout new found form on the back of an easy victory.  Let's remember this was the USA second stringers, South Africa with misplaced confidence is an almost guarantee of another below par showing.  On the plus side the old man injuries have given them a stronger starting line up, though they could have done with 1 or 2 more falling over.

The Taffs have shown a tendency this cup to keep on hanging on.  Kudos to a lot of hard work from a line of NZ coaches.  If they had had any idea on attack and concentrated on looking for space instead of continuous 1st and 2nd channels versus a 13 man Australia they would be playing Scotland instead.  George North in the 13 jersey is a liability in defence and attack.  He gets his D lines confused and, as with most wings, is no distributor.  The young Bok centre pairing while a handful on attack do have their own defensive weaknesses but North isn't capable of exploiting that.  If Ainscombe plays at the back we could be in for a treat. An unknown at international level and relied on more than a few injuries to make his way into the squad but has shown to be a real handful in Super rugby.  With all the kicks he's likely to receive, it could cause some real problems for South Africa.

Not sure I want to pick this one, so let's say 'go Wales!'.

Ainscombe....somewhat of a silent assassin

All Blacks v France

The Frogs couldn't get up versus a very one dimensional Ireland.  They couldn't defend versus a gameplan that involved minimal offloads meaning no support runners.  Can they hold the All Blacks out? Hopefully the All Blacks won't disappear into their shells again on this one. Or can Les Bleus pull another performance out of the hat just for NZ fans?  

The ABs have received their share of flak and have had problems implementing against lesser teams but they have a tendency to do what is required when necessary.  Expect to see New Zealand's #1 game plan from here on.  A pack going full on into contact (they showed the intent in their last pool game) and trying to outmuscle every other team at the breakdown, then that ball going wide the moment there's some space and mismatches for the backs.  Hansen has surely put the hard word on his front 8. Live or die by the sword. Pave the way for the team and country to the Cup. Then the backs will be able to display their wares and finally end this notion that attacking rugby can't win the World Cup, which will bode well for both the All Blacks and rugby at future cups. One feels McCaw and co have too much to prove this time round.  A chance to bury some ghosts.

Always impossible to pick scores when France is involved but let's say ABs by 16.

Dusautoir....if the French pull this one off it will be in no small part due to him

Ireland v Argentina

For all Ireland's pre cup optimism I have a feeling it's once again a quarter final exit.  Their seemingly dominant performance versus the Frogs was one dimensional stuff.  Schmidt's plan was "Don't lose that ball!" and Ireland played basically ball up your jumper rugby with every carrier tucking it under 2 arms and never looking to offload.  Their final pool victory was more down to a vacant French team. The Paddies climbed as far as #2 in the world rankings but there was always a falsity about it as the Boks and Australia always drop placings due to constant matches versus each other and the All Blacks. Now with the loss of key and experienced personnel surely the bookies will be forced to favour the Pumas.  

The Argy Bargies will meet the Irish pack with pure determination and there are going to be some sore bodies from the Emerald Isle after this one.  The Irish backs have gone ok but with Sexton seemingly out most of that goes out the window. And the Argentine backs are looking pretty lively themselves. 

Argentina to outmuscle the Irish and take this one by 10.

Santiago monster at 5ft9" and 79kg but give him some space and see you later

Australia v Scotland

Aussie definitely look the form team but a hurt, and uninspiring when it counted, Wales gifted them this draw. Pocock out, Australia's best player to date, is obviously a loss but you still expect the Wallabies to canter this.

The Sweats are triers and can turn on the odd gutsy performance but nothing tells me to expect one this weekend. I'll leave it at that.

Aussie by 20.

Jonny Grey, little brother of Richie.My main interest in this game is to watch this kid.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

South Africa v Japan-NZ combined, World Cup 2015

Just a few quick word as I can't let that one slip by.

Plaudits to Eddie Jones, a huge amount of work had obviously gone into those lightning hooked scrums and the low tackling with flanks cutting off the supply channels for offloads.  The accuracy of their passing game versus the familiar handling errors from the Boks, the Japs giving South Africa some of their own medicine with a rushing defence (that they kept up for 80 minutes!) creamed off with an energetic 100 mile per hour attitude that only the Japanese have. The 12 man mauls catching the Boks unaware and Garcia could easily have awarded a match winning penalty try for a collapsed maul in the dying moments. The world heavyweight once again showing their inability to change tack during a game.  Easily the greatest upset in international rugby history (except the '95 final) and that's with leaving 10 points on the field in the 1st 11 minutes, this should give some real motivation to the other competing minnows. In the Republic this will cause a vicious backlash to the imposed quotas. Huge, huge match from Japanese captain Michael Leitch.  A dark day in history for the Springboks. Go the Brave Blossoms!


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"my" Hansen's World Cup Squad

Elliot's a top lineout thrower but the AB lineout is reigning supreme and he doesn't bring the same energy to his ball-carrying game as he used to. Taylor nabs his spot. Meanwhile Hansen must be over the moon with Coles' development.

O. Franks
B. Franks
Faumuiana would probably have been in here, not to sleight Laulala but to keep some others honest. The other frontrowers have all been somewhat lazy of late. Too late for a clean out. Unfortunately the recent head knock puts him out til the naming of the squad.

Time to bring it again, Brodie

No 4th lock....Thrush is no more than an honest 2nd rower.  Does some hard graft but zero X factor.  Broadhurst will have to wait til next season.  He slipped up bigtime versus South Africa and now has question marks come the big knock out games. Kaino will have to cover. Confidence in our present lineout allows this.

1st XV?

Messam will owe his spot to the fact no 4th lock put their hand up.  Recently he has muscled up as demanded by our #6s but his error-rate has skyrocketed as well as needless penalties. Vito has been arguably the top performing NZ loosie this Super season (only competition coming from Hurricanes teammates Savea, Blade Thomson and Brad Shields....both the latter should be in ahead of Messam).  Though a #8 and having had previous problems stepping into the blindside role, Vito brings greater speed and ball handling.  He will have Messam's spot on the bench in big games, maybe even stealing the 6 jersey from Kaino who seems a shadow of his former self.

To accommodate all the below players we're only taking 2 9s to the Cup, taking advanatage of the injury replacement if needed.  In the group games any of the below will suffice as back up if one of the former need a week out.

Normally I'd have had Slade as the unlucky one but Hansen's decision to rest him from NPC action raises eyebrows.  Sopoaga has to be the first back should Carter go down and Hansen will give him a group game starting, come knock out time he won't be used on the bench That spot going to Barrett.

Please don't fall over

Nonu is in the form of his life and Williams won't get a look in.  On recent form he shouldn't even be in the squad.  Fekitoa doesn't deserve his place either.  All Blacks just don't have error rates that high. He'll get a run in done and dusted games or, if we're under the pump and need something out of the hat.  Hope like hell Nonu and Smith stay fit.  Losing Nonu is going to screw us. I'd have gone with George Moala (the closest to a Nonu replica there is) and Charlie Ngatai (though I do like the look of the Blues' Hamish Northcote).  At the very least I hope Moala is the new Nonu 2016.

No room for Israel?

Unfortunate for Dagg but he gets squeezed out.  I'm sure Hansen and co are pretty desperate to take him but at whose cost? I'd argue that our best performing backline in recent years is with Smith on the wing and Dagg at 15. But Smith is arguably the world's best fullback and Piutau, though not the current favourite son, is the best performing All Black back this year.  Can't leave out The Bus or the dazzling feet of the latest whizzkid on the block. Jane is undercooked, him and the outstanding Osbourne will be monitored as backups during the ITM Cup.