Quarter Final Thoughts: Part 2 (and a word on the press)

6 10 2011

Following on from our piece the other day, here is the second half of the draw and our opinions on them:

Australia vs South Africa

Along with Wales vs Ireland, this game is the pick of the weekends match ups. Two heavyweights of world rugby have unexpectedly found their route to the final tougher than might have been imagined at the start. Ever since Ireland constricted Australia’s supply of ball to win their pool game there has been the prospect of one of these sides going home early.

Again, at the start of the tournament Australia would have walked into this game as reasonably strong favourites, however, a resurgent South Africa have once again proved that they are a force in World Cup situations and now it is nigh on impossible to pick the winner out of this.

To us it hangs on two factors. Can Australia achieve parity up front at the set piece and will Pocock or Brussow prevail at the battle of the breakdown? In our opinion the answers are yes and Pocock leading us to the conclusion that Australia will edge the game. However, if this is not the case and the fragile Cooper is being delivered slow ball on the back foot then South Africa and Morne Steyn will take their toll. We realise that this last caveat is essentially a cop out but picking a winner here is honestly that difficult.

Given enough ball the Australians, possessors of one of the finest back lines around going forward, should have too much even for the dogmatic South Africans.

Being entirely selfish about this as England supporters, we would rather play Australia in the final than either the Kiwis or the Boks and as such we will be supporting them. We also believe that Australia would have more chance beating the All Blacks than anyone else and, Dan Carter or no Dan Carter, we as a representative of the north  would dread any Six Nations side playing the hosts in the final.

So, not an analysis really – more of a wish…

New Zealand vs Argentina

Obviously the easiest of all the weekend’s games to pick with the Argentine’s dream of a second semi final likely to come to a grinding halt. We do feel that this will not quite be the cake walk (just struck us what a strange expression that is – what, after all, is a cake walk?) that most are proscribing. The standard thinking in this game states that the All Blacks will win by 30 points plus and generally run riot. We remember the grittiness of the Argies and think that almost by tenacity alone they might cling on and make it closer than one might think.

Our prediction is unless the Kiwis get off to a flyer and run a couple of early tries in, this game might be reasonably close up until the 60 minute mark when the AB’s will pull away to eventually win by 15 points.

The fact of the matter is that, despite the valid claims that rugby is a team game and one man can’t make that much difference, Dan Carter’s absence is a huge blow to the men in black. It is hardly an original statement that considering how well lauded he is, yet he simply doesn’t make mistakes. Slade and Weepu, whilst they played reasonably well, both made several mistakes last weekend – even if it was as simple as a pass not going to hand. Against the best teams like Australia or South Africa these could end up as costly mistakes – whether the Argentines have the same ability is still to be seen yet we feel it would be a mistake to write them off too early in the piece.

With the added pressure of a 24 year drought the physical style of the Argentina could do more damage than perhaps many think…

Having said all that – New Zealand by 15 or more.

And Now For The (English) Press…

This world cup, as with any, has never been far away from scandal – the English team causing perhaps the majority of it with a deferential nod to Samoa and France too. Whilst we don’t condone much of it, we do feel that the majority of the moralising and sensationalist articles that have been written in the English media just represent the worst of what modern sportsman have to go through.

In the past some rugby players going out for a few beers would scarcely have raised an eyebrow – let alone weeks of national debate – and this from our supposed serious and quality broadsheets. The Daily Telegraph in particular has descended to levels that normally only the Daily Mail occupies.

There used to be an idea that journalists had a responsibility to the truth yet, these days, in an age where newspaper sales are dwindling leading to an increase in both sensationalist headlines and reporting whilst the vast spaces available online for the banal, patronising and moralising ‘comment piece’ journalists increase –  here at the Compulsive Hooker at any rate, we get progressively more sick off reading them.

There – its off our chest – and back to the rugby…

Any thoughts?


(Almost) Invincible New Zealand; Riches to Rags England

22 11 2010

An interesting article in the New Zealand Herald today which illustrates not only how good New Zealand have always been at rugby, but secondly, how extraordinarily good they have been under Graham Henry. Here is a list of the top 10 nations in the world by win percentages in descending order.

  1. New Zealand – 74.95%
  2. South Africa – 63.20%
  3. France – 55.42%
  4. England – 52.93%
  5. Australia – 51.89%
  6. Wales – 51.23%
  7. Scotland – 42.42%
  8. Argentina – 41.95%
  9. Ireland – 41.83%
  10. Italy – 28.22%

According to the article, the AB’s need only one more win to go to the unbelievable record of winning three games in every four over their entire history. Credit too must go to Graham Henry as it is down to him that they even have a shot at getting to this level. Since he has been in charge they have won an incredible 86% of their matches. Riches indeed.

Also interesting on this list is the fact that France and England are above Australia and that, perhaps most surprisingly, Wales are only a few decimal points off the men in Green and Gold.

What we wondered however was that since the dawn of professionalism when it is fair to say the southern hemisphere domination truly began; which teams have had the best record? Well the answer is, unsurprisingly given Henry’s record, still New Zealand, but with some change in the order following as the sides jockey for positions. (Tables are courtesy of scrum.com’s excellent ‘statsguru’).

Win Percentage from Aug 1995 to current day

Australia, France, England, Ireland and Argentina have all advanced their cases substantially with the notable losers being Wales and Scotland. South Africa, who maintained their pre professionalism record, slip down to fourth in the table simply by virtue of the others improving.

As English fan’s and being only too aware of their failings for the majority of the past decade, it is a bit of surprise seeing England riding so high with a 61% winning record. It is testimony, of course, to Clive Woodward’s England that they achieved this as, for 5 years from the ‘Tour of Hell’ in 1998 onto the end of the world cup, England’s record was an astonishing 84.12% and comfortably the best in the world over that period.

In what was an astonishing drop in standards, England have only won 45% of their matches since those halycon days with even Wales being above them. Notably in this table (reproduced below) Ireland are above Australia and France have sneaked into second place.

Winning percentage from December 2003 to current day.

From an English point of view then it is encouraging to see Johnson’s team finally show signs of turning the corner and hopefully improve these more recent figures dramatically.

To New Zealand we must simply say well played and give the rest of us a chance! It is truly astonishing when you look at these numbers that they haven’t won more world cups…

A Brilliant Tournament and a Scared Northern Hemisphere

14 09 2010

Round Up of the Tri Nations

What a tournament that was! We are of course referring to the Tri Nations (a few days late we know – and apologise!) which this year has lit up the rugby world in a way that has totally reinvigorated it. With tries coming regularly and mostly at pace, this has been proper ‘running rugby’, the like of which we haven’t seen for quite some time.

Take a step back to this time last year when you only had to open any paper or rugby website to find a piece bemoaning the state of the game and putting forward any number of remedies to save it from the kick fest it had become. Fortunately the solution hit upon, i.e. instructing the referees to give the attacking side the benefit of the doubt and being strict on tacklers at the breakdown, was not a change that bit at the very fabric of the game like the ill fated ELV’s (Experimental Law Variations) and consequently this wonderful game is still the same one we know and love.

Probably entirely predictably it has been the All Blacks that have taken this game to a new level and demonstrated both an extraordinary level of talent and what is an unparalleled ability to finish off attacking moves in the modern game. Justifiably as the best side in the world (by quite some margin we might add) they have been installed as comfortable favourites for the world cup next year in New Zealand and one feels it will only the weight of expectation that trips them up rather than any actual rugby issues.

Australia will have mixed feelings about their campaign. As an Australian friend of the Compulsive Hooker said to us yesterday ‘if a game of rugby was only 40 minutes long we might have won this tournament!’ To an extent this is true as on several occasions, both against the Springboks and the All Blacks, the Wallabies found themselves up at half time – only to be blown away in the second half. Rugby though is a game of 80 minutes (or two halves if you prefer old clichés) and this is undoubtedly something they need to work on in time for next years World Cup. Indeed it is a  strange trait for an Australian side to have, usually, as they are, renowned for their fighting spirit. On the plus side however there is enough there to work with and once a number of automatic choices come back, particularly in the front row area, the Australians should be an altogether tougher prospect. Along with the Kiwi’s they do possess some of the most electric runners with the ball we have seen – Giteau has continued to be a threat with ball in hand and the (mostly) sublime Quade Cooper has been a joy to watch. Coupled with some good runners in the shape of James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale etc out wide they are always likely to be, at the very least, an entertaining side.

Moving onto South Africa it is hard to see where they go from here. You have to go back to 2004 and look at the England side post 2003 world cup to see a side fall comparably far and fast. To us at the Compulsive Hooker; there is not much mystery about this turn of events and almost everything can be laid at the door of coach Pieter De Villiers. As our columnist Dingo succinctly put it during his rant; whilst he is able to ‘enliven any press conference’ his weaknesses as a coach are now more apparent than ever. Indeed it is possible that (and indeed is our argument) that the Springboks have been successful despite him rather than because of him and now, when what is needed is a careful guiding hand and inspired selection, he has been found wanting. The South African team is getting older and several of the truly world class players are not perhaps as dynamic as they once were. Tactically too the South Africans have been found wanting and still attempting to play the ‘kick and chase’ game that they so recently excelled at. Rugby has moved on and if you want to kick the ball away to sides as dynamic as the Kiwi’s and the Wallabies – well then you have to take the consequences, which, in this case, has been bottom of the Tri Nations table.

Favourite Player: A tie this one between Quade Cooper and Isaac Dagg. Cooper has been outstanding and for the most part has kept Australia in contention throughout. Dagg however, despite only being a bit part player for the AB’s, has excited us more than any player we have seen for some time. An unbelievable runner on the ball his try against the Springboks earlier in the tournament was one of the best individual efforts we have ever seen.

What Does This Mean For The Northern Hemisphere?

Ignoring the frankly pointless Bledisloe Cup match scheduled in Hong Kong on the 30th October, the next set of internationals are of course the Autumn Internationals. Over the past five years or so the results have been heavily in favour of the Southern Hemisphere sides and, call us morbid and pessimistic, but we can’t see anything particularly changing this year.

In fact we wouldn’t be surprised if we see some frankly embarrassing scores visited on the Home Nations by the touring Tri Nations sides. New Zealand and South Africa are both going for the Grand Slam and, with the All Blacks in particular, we would be very surprised if they could not find it within themselves to comfortably achieve this. We do believe that the South African’s will be beaten by at least one side – possibly England or Ireland – but other than that it could be yet another disappointing and barren Autumn for the Northern Hemisphere ‘powers’.

The change in refereeing interpretations have also taken effect up here with games becoming more open and more tries generally being scored. What appears to be different however is the skill levels. Watching a handful of the opening games of the Aviva Premiership in particular (and in mitigation it is still very early season so it could simply be Summer rust) it has been apparent that when faced with an overlap or a try scoring opportunity – as often as not the chance is fluffed. In essence – exciting rugby but hardly clinical. By comparison down south – even at Provincial level – these chances are usually taken with alacrity and so it is no surprise perhaps that when this is translated to the national sides the Northern Hemisphere struggle by comparison.

English supporters buoyed by our most recent test in Australia may well take issue with my arguments but we feel this is likely to be a false dawn once more and the folly of keeping Martin Johnson on will be exposed. Ireland may scrape a win or two (against the Boks and the Argies) but they, like the Springboks, are an ageing side with seemingly intractable problems at scrum time. Wales and Scotland will again prove to have lots of fight and not a bit of skill but will ultimately be too lightweight. The only side truly capable of challenging the southern hemisphere superiority may well be the French although, as always with them, you never know which side will turn up.

We would of course love to be proved wrong and we know there are arguments that perhaps the gap will have closed – yet we have a sad and sneaking suspicion that once again this will not be so. What do you think? Can we up north have more reason to hope than we have given?

World Cup 2010 – Some Thoughts at the Quarter Final Stage

30 06 2010

As we are now into the latter stages of the World Cup in South Africa, we thought we would put together a few thoughts on what we have witnessed so far. We have seen most of the games but not all, so if we have missed something please let us know by commenting below:

Team Most Likely To Win: A difficult choice as Brazil appeared to have clicked back to their measured but brilliant best with their win over Chile, Germany were as efficient as only Germans can be against England and Spain and Argentina have both played some good football although there are perhaps some concerns over Spain’s big match prowess. When pressed to make a choice we have to plump for Germany as we just have a sneaky suspicion that this will be their year.

Favourite Team: A toss up between that group of predominantly non-league footballers, the All Whites, Bafana Bafana and Slovakia perhaps as well due to their win over Italy. Probably the All Whites if push came to shove.

Most Disappointing Teams: A three way tie between Italy, France and England. Each of them hyped up in their own countries but by no one else.

Best Single Players Performance: The Kiwi goalie’s extraordinary shot stopping against Italy in their one all draw would get our vote. We’re sure there are others so let us know below.

Best Goal: Not sure about this one but Maicon’s goal for Brazil against North Korea was pretty special. We saw highlights for a pretty spectacular volley from a Dutch player early in the tournament which looked brilliant. Who was this player, can anyone tell us?

Most Irritating Player: Cristiano Ronaldo – no shadow of a doubt. We would hate to be playing on the same Portugese side as him only to watch him blaze 40 yard free kicks either high and wide or comfortably into the goalies arms. His repeated falling over at the slightest touch doesn’t help our affections towards him either.

Most Disappointing Player: Wayne Rooney – his touch seemed to desert him and never looked threatening.

Best Player: David Villa – doing everything Ronaldo was supposed to do himself.

Best Game: Probably England vs Germany (although obviously not from an Englishman’s perspective). Was high drama in a world cup strangely lacking it.

Most Entertaining Manager: Has to be Maradona for his press conferences and his flamboyant sideline celebrations. Would be akin in passion to Ian Wright managing the England team.

Overall Thoughts: To us this seems to be a slightly strange and disappointing experience so far and we can’t work out why. What does everyone else think – has it been underwhelming or is it just us here at the Compulsive Hooker? Now we’re into the business end of the competition hopefully this feeling will dissipate quickly.

England Win!

20 06 2010

Unfortunately we were unable to watch any of the rugby yesterday due to other commitments, and typically, just when we were thinking perhaps it doesn’t matter considering the state of northern hemisphere rugby, England win and Scotland complete a series triumph in Argentina. True Italy and Wales lost convincingly to the Springboks and New Zealand respectively, yet finally we have some positives.

We won’t comment on the games for obvious reasons but reading the reports it seems that the two young guns, Courtney Lawes and Ben Youngs were brilliant, and that Croft finally played something like he did for the Lions last year. We have been advocating the talents of these three right from the birth of this website last December and so it is pleasing to see that they are finally being given their head and, above all, justifying their selections in some style.

Here at the Compulsive Hooker we have been waiting for an opportunity to write something positive about the English rugby team for so long – and it is galling that the one game we miss is the game where suddenly the shackles were broken! Whilst we are still not convinced Martin Johnson and his team are the right men for the job; at least they have finally given England fans something positive to dwell on.

What is imperative now is that England win well against the New Zealand Maori on Wednesday and then, coming into the home Autumn tests, prove that this is not a fluke. Anyone getting too excited should remember there is a precedence for a one off good performance under the current regime, with England demolishing France in the 2009 6 Nations and then reverting to type.  However a win is a win, and a win over southern hemisphere opposition away from home is to be treasured in these lean times.

Can anyone reading this who did watch the game possibly comment in a little more detail with regard to the performance of the young England players in the team?

Summer Internationals Preview: Rugby

10 06 2010

Once again it is that time of year when the northern hemisphere national teams head down south with a mixture of trepidation and what usually turn out to be false hopes. There are some intriguing battles over the next few weeks but, unfortunately, we suspect that by the end of these fixtures the balance on the win ledger will be firmly in favour of the southern teams.

This gap in standards and abilities, which has only ever been closed on brief occasions in the past, is as wide as it ever has been, no matter that Australia for one are still rebuilding, or that South Africa and New Zealand are choosing to experiment slightly. For most of the NH teams the same problems are still present; a lack of fluidity and adaptability in England’s case; a lack of a front row in Irelands; simply no depth in Scotland’s case meaning an innate lack of quality and with France, well, you never know if they’re interested in playing until they start. Wales are alone out of the home nations in not having a game this weekend having kicked off their Summer with a home game against the Springboks last weekend, in which they came thrillingly close, but couldn’t quite close it out.

England vs Australia (Perth)

Out of all the teams playing southern hemisphere opposition this weekend England have as good a chance as any. Australia are firstly a side of whom they are not scared (which silly as it may seem can be a factor in these tours) and are also a side going through their own rebuilding process. That they have managed to keep sneaking the odd win against the Boks and the All Blacks during this period whilst also winning most of their games against other opposition suggests that their coach is doing a better job than Johnson in his rebuilding process.

England come into this game with a couple of selections creating interest in the Aussie press, not least the selection of Toby Flood on the bench ahead of Jonny Wilkinson. A surprise perhaps to them but to any England supporters this news is hardly worth raising an eyebrow to. Flood, having come in at the tail end of the 6 Nations in March, is the man in possession and quite honestly (and this is tough to say as JW is one of our favourites here) currently the better game manager. Jonny will be back, of that we have no doubt, but he is not the 2003 super hero deluxe model any more.

The other interesting selection is Shontayne Hape, the ex All Black rugby league player, who comes in at 12 for the injured Riki Flutey. One Kiwi for another then. Here at the Compulsive Hooker this selection of foreign born players for England is a regular conundrum with which we wrestle; it now being common in many sports but particularly cricket and rugby. Truth be told it is nothing new and England are far from being alone in doing it, yet we do feel that a line should be drawn when that player has already represented a different country at senior level in another sport. Therefore, whilst we have nothing against Hape, we hope that Ollie Barkley has his own opportunity to state his case whilst still on tour. This seems unlikely to happen though as he appears to be several rungs down in the pecking order.

We are glad to see Tom Croft back in the team having come in for Joe Worsley. Croft is a serious talent and you feel would thrive if he was playing for any other team than England, enjoying as he does the wide open spaces and a quick game, and we hope Johnson can accommodate him properly.

We are also pleased to see Ben Youngs on the bench although we would much rather he was starting. We believe that he will end up being first choice England scrum half for the next five years once he fights his way into the team. He will however have to get past Martin Johnson’s strange love affair with Danny Care.

Turning on the TV last night we watched England play Ireland in the Junior World Championships currently being played in Argentina and what a joy it was. These players are still young enough that they are simply playing ‘heads-up’ rugby. Literally playing what they see in front of them rather than getting bogged down in the slowly worked and usually ineffective set piece moves and game plans so beloved of the England senior team. If senior England can show the level of invention and simply the willingness to play rugby as the junior side did, well – even a loss would be easier to stomach.

It’s time for your team to start delivering Johno – don’t let us down now.

Prediction: Australia 35-13 England

A quick look at the other two big games:

New Zealand vs Ireland

This is likely to be a difficult tour for Ireland as not only are they battling history, never having beaten the All Blacks home or away, but are also battling their own front row. This is of course overstating it a little bit, John Hayes would never do anything to harm Ireland’s cause on purpose, yet his very selection is worrying. For the last year or more the Irish pack has gone backwards regularly and spectacularly at scrum time as age finally tells on Hayes. On the other side of the scrum is Cian Healy, dynamic in the loose but still learning at scrum time and regularly out scrummaged. It is testament to Ireland’s other players and their fighting qualities that during this period they have been so successful, but we feel against the might of the AB’s only pain will follow.

Otherwise the Irish side is really as good as it’s possible to be, injuries permitting. Mick O’Driscoll is in for O’Connell and will surely do a solid job and Trimble in for Earls. O’Gara is picked ahead of Sexton whose place kicking at international level is suspect, even if the rest of his game is not, and against the All Blacks you need assurance that, when there are points on offer, they are taken.

Prediction: All Blacks 32-19 Ireland

South Africa vs France

Similarly to England, France have a reasonable chance of a win as South Africa have named an interesting team for Saturdays game. The Bok’s showed their World Champion qualities last week against Wales, doing just enough to win, yet the challenge will be that much tougher against France this week.

France have come off a 6 Nations where they demonstrated exactly how powerful an outfit they are, winning in style and well. If they can continue this form then there is no reason why they cannot beat South Africa at home. It really depends which French team turns up as even in this professional age you can never guarantee a performance from them. (Witness their win in the Autumn against South Africa, only to then get trounced by New Zealand the following week). We actually think they might win this series and it would be impossible to understate the value of this leading into world cup year in 2011.

Prediction: South Africa 21 – 29 France


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