Sunday, 3 June 2007

all blacks v france, eden park, june 2nd

Media Gloating

Having to endure the premature gloating of Jim Kayes and Jamie Douglas on Friday, (two of the Wellington Dominion’s resident sports writers) was painful . According to these men, this All Black side had only to turn up and go through the haka to annihilate this poor French ‘C’ team.

Then last night, during a very average, scrappy and admittedly frustrating test match between the two foes, we had to endure an embarrassingly impartial commentary by John Drake and Grant ‘the prodigious punt’ Nisbett. In this one eyed commentary box, the All Blacks could do no wrong while the floundering French , were scrappy at best and were to blame for the general poorness of play.

Today – and a quick skim of the Sunday papers in New Zealand, one could be mistaken for thinking the All Blacks had given a polished performance. ‘Icing the French out’ according to the Sunday Star Times? I don’t think so.

Kick off

It has left me wondering whether I watched the same test match at all. This jet-lagged French ‘C’ team were committed in defence and even managed to restrict the ‘World No 1’ All Black side to one try in the first half. Les Bleu also managed to apply pressure on what is supposedly the best scrum in the world and stole a couple of lineouts (although hardly surprising, the only thing consistent about the current All Black line out for the last few years has been its inconsistency).

For some reason, Sky’s ‘professional and not at all impartial’ commentators Grant Nisbitt and John Drake appeared wholly oblivious to this, repeatedly skimming over the spirited, gutsy and structured defence of the French underdogs. It even appeared that referee Stuart Dickinson had decided to join the cause of ‘Nisbo’ (god help us) and ‘Drakey’ by bringing along his own eye patch. When Dickinson wasn’t continuously blowing his whistle and insisting on resetting the scrum he was adding to the general dour and anticlimactic feel of the occasion by awarding dubious tries left, right and centre. (Well, just the two actually – but both to Sivivatu)

For the first time in a year we saw the All Blacks play it safe and for territory. What would normally be a counter or run out from their own 22 was passed into the sure hands of Carter or Evans and often kicked straight back into French territory. It was obvious Henry’s team were playing their cards close to their chests but it made for a boring spectacle. None of this was helped by some very average displays from a few of the so called ‘condionees’ in their new black (shiny!?!) uniforms.

Weepu isn't up to it

For a start, contrary to what every other hack thinks in this country, I do not believe Weepu should be in the starting lineup (whether he can play first five or not). What is the point if he can’t catch the ball? There has been no evidence whatsoever on his Hurricanes performances this year or last night to suggest otherwise. He was all too often slow to the breakdown. When he did finally manage to lumber along to a group of flailing arms and legs he would often knock on or make the wrong decision by kicking it, straight into the hands of a willing French debutante, leaving everyone to curse in frustration. I’ve always said ‘never trust a halfback with love-handles’ and after last night’s performance, I’ll be sticking with that analogy.

Other average performances were Leon ‘butterfingers’ MacDonald and the invisible Chris Jack. The lineout woes are not all his fault but there is something seriously wrong when we can’t lead a set-piece like this against a supposed ‘third string’ side.

Improved performances

There were some good performances. Ali Williams and Aaron Mauger played passionately – the latter being awarded two tries of this own. Nick Evans stepped into the breach seamlessly after Carter limped off at half time. Evans, in Carter’s shadow, has always been massively underrated. The All Blacks are lucky they can call on someone of his calibre to step up to the plate when Carter rolls his ankle or gets a stinger in the shoulder (an all too familiar occurrence it unfortunately seems in this last year). Toeava (my personal hope for World Cup superstardom) also played well, but he needs to keep his eye on the ball in the big games.

So what now for the All Blacks? A slicker, more skillful approach needs to be implemented if they can seriously think they have a hope of beating an on fire Boks team in South Africa come Tri Nations time. Hopefully we will see Kelleher, Muliaina, Collins and Robinson come into the first fifteen next Saturday and with that, we should see a more enterprising and satisfying game from the men in black.

New Zealand 42 (A. Mauger (2), S. Sivivatu (2), R. So'oialo tries; D. Carter pen, con; P. Weepu pen, con; N. Evans 2 cons, pen)
France 11 (B. Thierry try; B. Boyet 2 pens)

- Mauger’s first try
- Sebastien Chabal’s stunning tackle on Chris Masoe
- Sebastien Chabal’s very own pukana during the haka

- Piri Weepu
- Stuart Dickinson
- Grant Nisbett and John Drake

Decent media
Grant Foxes ‘France C, All Blacks' rusty effort merit a B'

Outside Opinion The British media seems pretty happy to focus on Carter's injury and not so much the game.

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