All Blacks Measure Up

17 10 2011

No choke there then! For the first time since 1987 The All Blacks finally gave a world cup performance of substance and style when it counted befitting their illustrious reputation and record in world rugby. Indeed so emphatic was their victory and so poor their opponents for the biggest prize the IRB are probably already getting the words ‘New Zealand’ engraved on the rugby’s biggest prize.

As dominant as the All Blacks were, it was all the same a mystifying tactical performance from the Australians. Blessed with exceptional backs, the Australian’s seemed to forget this and decided to play a close game more reminiscent of the departed England team than the Tri Nations champions of whom we were familiar pre world cup. Whether this was an attempt to control the normally mercurial talents of Quade Cooper or possibly a desire to test the willingness of the new boy Cruden in the tackle or half a dozen other things – it palpably failed.

Even when Australia were 10 minutes away from elimination and needed two scores to win – a time when we would normally have expected the electric Cooper and Genia to start throwing caution to the wind, spreading it wide and testing the AB’s in ways in which they hadn’t done all game – there was no ambition. This was a world cup semi final and to us it looked like Australia either forgot or, whisper it quietly, did what people have been expecting the Kiwi’s to do and choked. There was no leadership, little urgency – even when a penalty was awarded 5 yards out with 3 minutes to go Genia faffed around for crucial seconds – and quite simply no invention.

Although a great deal of the press has gone to Quade Cooper’s role in proceedings, some wags claiming he was the best Kiwi player on the pitch, it was Genia that disappointed us most. Yes he was behind a struggling pack and generally getting back foot ball but it was the lack of control and leadership he demonstrated even given these difficulties that was most telling. Genia has over the past couple of years been one of the Australian leading lights, a player they look to for inspiration and decision making, yet so many times yesterday he looked s0 lost and bereft of ideas that he could have been an imposter.

None of this should take away from New Zealand’s performance though. Clinical, yet played with flair, they proved that the loss of Carter isn’t quite the loss that many people (including us it must be said) thought it might be. Whether it was the incredible Dagg creating something from nothing, Corey Jane mopping up yet another aimless high ball or the excellent Kaino dragging plaintive Australian’s along this was surely a performance of World Champions. It is true that the ‘French’ factor might yet play a part but to our mind they could expect to win the upcoming final nine times out of ten.



The All Blacks Are Coming and Flood/Wilkinson

18 10 2010

Graham Henry announced the 30 man touring party that will be travelling to the Northern Hemisphere this November. Notable not only for the sheer quality of names (despite a few injuries) that have been picked, but mainly for the inclusion of their rugby league convert and potential superstar, Sonny Bill Williams.

This is a name that many people outside of the southern hemisphere won’t be too familiar with but, by all accounts (and having done some research on youtube), he looks likely to take the international rugby world by storm. Certainly we at the Compulsive Hooker are slightly scared by what he might be able to do to what we suspect will be an outclassed English side. Upon leaving rugby league in 2008, Williams joined Toulon in the Top 14, playing alongside such luminaries as Jonny Wilkinson and Carl Hayman before re-signing with the NZRU (New Zealand Rugby Union) and refusing an offer that has variously been reported as between 5 and 6 million US dollars from Toulon.

To give all NH fans a taste of what we might be in for have a look at the video below. Clearly the all round package he obviously has good hands on him as well as being an enormous tackler. His hit just after 3 minutes is particularly worth replaying. In the international arena he may come under more scrutiny for not wrapping his arms around the player – an old habit from his rugby league days – but either way he remains a fearsome prospect. (You might want to turn the volume down as the music the poster of the video has put with it is remarkably annoying).

The rest of the squad is much as expected although we are disappointed not to see Israel Dagg travel due to his thigh injury. In several cameos off the bench in the Tri Nations he scored a couple of incredible solo tries and showed that the New Zealand conveyor belt of running talent is still in operation.

The All Blacks played some of the best rugby that the Compulsive Hooker has ever seen over the recent tournament and particularly in the early games took rugby to a level rarely seen before. The pace and precision was extraordinary and we cannot help but think that they will complete the ‘Grand Slam’ in the Autumn with relative ease this year. A full preview will follow for all these games but for now let us just say we are already highly excited by the prospect of international rugby on every weekend throughout November – it really is one of our favourite times of the year!


Wilkinson / Flood

Talking of rugby weekends, the one we have just had was not bad at all with the second round of the Heineken cup matches being played. With the debate about who should be playing fly-half for England about to be renewed once more, we thought we would watch both the Leicester vs Scarlets game and Munster vs Toulon to get up to speed on the relative form of the two contenders Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson.

During Saturdays game in Ireland, Wilkinson emerged just after half time to play in a side that was being dominated in every facet of the game by an excellent Munster team. Taking things by the scruff of the neck it was noticeable that Wilkinson immediately injected life to Toulon providing them shape and a great deal of width. Unfortunately with Munster defending well and the Toulon backs lacking depth, he was unable to ultimately provide the cutting edge that the French side needed. Encouragingly though, reports on a resurgence of form do not look to be entirely misplaced with his passing being good on the whole and a couple of half breaks showing some quick feet plus a well taken drop goal.

In Leicester’s game Flood was making his comeback from an injury and therefore could have been forgiven some match rustiness. On the contrary though he was decidedly good and his combination with the effervescent Ben Youngs at scrum half might be enough to tempt Martin Johnson to retain his services. It is true he was playing in a dominant team behind a pack going forwards unlike Wilkinson at Toulon, yet his performance will have pleased the England management no end.

The Compulsive Hooker does not have a history of rating Toby Flood highly so our verdict based on this weekend may come as a surprise – yet we wouldn’t change the Leicester 9/10 combination for the opening game on this evidence. Obviously a lot can change over the next 3 weeks and this is far from an open and shut case, but, with Flood also being the incumbent, we would put our money on him starting.


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