Monday, 29 November 2010
The autumn internationals - round up
Chris Rattue loves to complain but moaning that these autumn tests are meaningless and a waste of time surely shows up his true ineptitude when it comes to his knowledge of rugby. For an All Black supporter, it is always a joy to watch New Zealand play the northern hemisphere teams. The crowd atmospheres are always electric, the operatic hyperbole in the British and Irish media is better than front row seats at Covent Garden, and the All Blacks get to play teams that are not South Africa and Australia.
November is my favourite time of the year rugby wise, and the 2010 autumn internationals (as they like to call them up north) did not fail to disappoint again. As this great month closes and the snow threatens to announce a long winter in England, I reconcile myself to the fact that I will have to go back to the grindstone, rather than surreptiously surfing rugby sites at work. So it's a good a time as any to sum up and take stock of the winners and losers of November.
Favourite moments: SBW's offloads, Dan Carter's goal for the world record number of points and the small smile he allows himself as he makes his way back to the team, Jerome Kaino's crunching tackles, Brian O'Driscoll's one handed scoop to score a try against the ABs (is it just me, or are more players now trying to do the one handed SBW arm than ever before - like Meads in the past - holding a ball with one hand just makes you look a bit sexier), Keiran Reid defying gravity and making the British media rave about an All Black loose forward, Scotland beating South Africa and denying them a grand slam, the minutes silence in the Millennium Stadium for the Pike miners. Oh - and an All Black slam under the greatest coach (IMHO) in All Black history - Graham Henry.
New rules mean new dimensions for the Pacific Islands: Fiji and Samoa showed up the home nations this year but rather than this meaning the home nations are on a downward slide, I think it illustrates that the game's new laws have given teams that play free flowing rugby an edge up (ok, I realise I've just stated the obvious there). I expect all the Pacific Island teams to play well in the World Cup, and some of them to create a few upsets.
England might be a force to be reckoned with come October 2011. So they were outmuscled by a South African team in disarray. Neither teams really showed an ounce of attacking flair on Saturday but this was a grinder of a test match and it was still highly entertaining to watch. England are definitely on the up with some new backs that are not afraid to try a few new things. But they shouldn't give away the skills by which they have always been defined. By all means, try and play attacking rugby. It will please the crowd and draw some respect from the opposition, but scrummaging and stick it up the jumper style is what they're best at. If they can get both things going, they might be in with a shout. Might.
England are still annoying: I respect Martin Johnson. He wears his heart on his sleeve, the big gruff bear that he is. But there are some people in the English team that are just little tantrum throwers. Matt Banaham (the battering ram) showboating before he's touched down for a try. Yeuch. Ben Foden throwing his toys out of the cot when a decision doesn't go England's way by throwing the ball down on the ground and stamping his feet like an annoying little three year tot. Not cool and not likeable. Also, one win against Australia and all of a sudden, they're world beaters. They talk a great game but walking it is a different matter.
Coming of age for NZ: Loved SBW for Scotland. Thought Toeava redeemed himself. Kaino and Read are up there with McCaw now. Whitelock and of course, the best of all - Hosea Gear who is the ultimate finisher in the world (bad news for Joe). These guys are no journeymen, they're the real deal, and they made me proud to be an All Black supporter.
World conspiracy against McCaw: Ok. I'm getting sick of this now. How can McCaw be the biggest cheat yet for the third time be nominated for IRB player of the year. More than that, how does he remain cool on the field when he is consistently being niggled by off the ball cheap shots? And then as the game ends, the jealous and incompetent really get going by taking pot shots at him in the press. With not much due respect at all to Stephen Ferris (an Irish flanker that will never amount to anything on the rugby field) and all the other rugby playing scribes out there - a word of advice. Maybe you should do your talking on the field rather than in the papers. Then New Zealand might start respecting you.
Australia are the new France: Erratic and then brilliant. Kurtley Beale a superstar in the making, Drew Mitchell and James O'Conner are up there too. They sliced France apart last night and are looking good for the world cup - if only they get their scrum issues sorted. A final word about Deans, call me provincial, call me a yokel, but the man is a traitor as evidenced by his backhanded wind up about All Black cheating this week. How you can actually do this to people that you once coached and were presumably close to in the past, I'm not sure. He's shown his true colours once and for all.
The home nations played some good rugby: They always step up when playing against the All Blacks, I think the New Zealanders bring the best out of them. It wasn't good enough again, but all the games (bar Scotland) were exciting and nervewracking this year. My favourite was the Irish game. I think both teams played some exceptional rugby.
Peter de Villiers should go: Yes - the Springboks beat England well. But they struggled against Wales and Ireland and did the unthinkable by losing to Scotland (no offence to Scotland who appear to be on the up). Plus, there is the small matter of those players being sent home for drug cheating. I'm surprised there has not been more commotion around this actually. Of course, everyone that isn't South African is very happy to see this loose cannon of a coach stay on board till the World Cup, but two players testing positive for banned drugs? I don't think the omens are good for the Bokke with this motor mouth at the helm.
So many things and I'll think about 100 more before the night it through, but it's time for me to sign off for the year. I'll see you in Feb for the super 15 and the build up to the tournament that I dare not believe we will win because judging by past heartbreaks, why would I now?