Saturday, July 30, 2011

The first step...

The All Blacks' road to the 2011 Rugby World Cup begins tonight in Wellington when they face a sub-par South African side. It's a match that the All Blacks will be expected to win, and to win well, but there are plenty of sub-plots to keep our interest.

The side is getting closer to a first-choice All Black team. Clearly Brad Thorn, Kieran Reid and Tony Woodcock will be in the top All Black line-up come RWC time, and it's great that Woodcock will be playing for North Harbour in the next few days. Thorn's expected return next week leaves Ali Williams and Sam Whitelock competing for one position against the Wallabies.

The loose forward mix is interesting. We have no doubt that Adam Thompson will be competent at #8, and in combination with McCaw and Kaino, the All Blacks have a strong loose forward trio tonight capable of providing the impetus for an expansive game. McCaw and Thompson may swap places at times tonight, but neither holds a candle to Reid, who has the potential to develop into one of the greats in the role. We have no qualms about him having another week off to recover from an arduous Super Rugby campaign, not Brad Thorn who is the consummate professional, and will be back fit and ready next week.

The backline has a RWC look to it, with the exception of the wings. Cory Jane will be looking to have a huge game tonight as he tries to salvage something from his personal season from hell. Zac Guilford was the form winger in Super Rugby, but play didn't really run his way last week. The Carter/Nonu/Smith combination has a settled, experienced feel, and we'll be looking for Sonny Bill Williams to make an impact in the second half if Nonu can soften up the defence.

Whether or not the "real" Springboks are in camp at Rustenburg will be irrelevant tonight. This is a test match between rugby's most bitter rivals, and that is the attitude that the All Blacks must take onto the Westpac Stadium pitch tonight. Nothing less will be acceptable. A dominant performance and a comprehensive victory will be the best first step that the All Black's can take toward's rugby's biggest prize.

Cross-posted at The Sports Geek - we'll be blogging there as well from time to time...


pdm said...

Mmm Inv - will Woodcock be able to come back to the extent he can head off either Crockett or Ben Franks as starting loosehead at World Cup time. I am not so sure.

The Whielock v Williams is a no contest at present as the only area Williams is close to Whitelock is at lineout time. He is way off the pace around the paddock.

No question about Carter but we will never agree on Nonu in particular and also Smith who is also off the pace at present - how many tackles did Smith miss last week - 3 or 4 I think and that will be fatal against the Aussies or French. SBW and Kahui in the midfield for me.

I think this week will show up the need for specialist back ups for Read and McCaw. I have a lot of time for Thompson but he is a 6 who can cover for short periods at 7 and 8. These are areas that we will be really exposed in at the World Cup pbased on the present squad if read or Mccaw go down with serious injury.

And I haven't even mentioned Weepu the number 5 or 6 rated halfback in NZ for mine. Mathewson for one should be ahead of him in this squad.

Inventory2 said...

@ pdm; with a few games of ITM Cup rugby under his belt, I'm sure that Woodcock will be up to speed. He has been the rock of the All Black scrum over the last few seasons.

I take your point about Smith's lack of form and play, but he's clearly the first-choice centre. Kahui is again injured (hammy, I think), and I heard talk during the week that his long-term future is far from assured due to his repeated shoulder injuries. To get Smith up to speed, he needs to be playing rugby. He is the brains of the All Black backline, and the defensive organiser, and I reckon that his importance in that role is often understated. I'm 50/50 between Nonu and Williams, but Nonu has far more experience between Carter and Smith, and Graham Henry seems to be able to extract a little more out of him than any provincial coach.

Oh; one thing we didn't mention in the preview; Dan Carter is poised to again become the highest ever points scorer in test rugby, and the first past 1200 points.

pdm said...

Yep - once Carter gets in front of Wilkinson this time there should be no catching him.

Kahui's injuries are a worry but he is a class above Smith when 100% fit - unfortunately he is the Jacob Oram of NZ rugby.

jabba said...

naa Kahui is the Oram of our rugby world. Smith is a class act

Inventory2 said...

I'm with you Jabba; Kahui is a good attacker, but Smith is the brains of the All Black backline in much the same way as Tim Horan was for so long for the Ockers.

Inventory2 said...

Excellent first half from the All Blacks; three excellent tries, and the team has played with both intensity and intent. A great comeback from Cory Jane, Cowan and Carter have looked sharp, and I get the feeling that the pace of the game will tell on the Springboks midway through the second half.

Inventory2 said...

We'll review the match properly tomorrow, but a 40-7 scoreline is a pretty emphatic win.

There were plenty of stars in the All Blacks tonight, but four players stood out. Richie McCaw had his best match of 2011, Andrew Hore had a superb defensive match, and Zac Guilford looked sharp. But our player of the match was Cory Jane; two tries, strong on defence, excellent as usual under the high ball and looking for work all night; a great comeback match.

Yes; it was a sub-par Springbok team. But the All Blacks were missing Mealamu, Woodcock, Thorn and Reid, so there's some real depth being developed in the forwards, and those who stepped into the breach tonight did the jersey proud. Bring on the Australians next week.

pdm said...

Interesting how people see the same game differently Inv. My man of the match was Carter who did more with the ball in hand in this game than he has for a couple of seasons - shame about his goal kicking though.

Thompson was also very good with a high work rate and good lineout ball. It was good to hear Henry finally acknowledge that back up at 8 was a concern although Thompson allayed some of my concerns there tonight.

Will now watch an hour of the cricket.