Category Archives: Rugby Championship

Rugby Championship 2014 – New Zealand vs Australia, Auckland

All Blacks win 51-20 vs Wallabies

All-Blacks-celebrate-Bledisloe-Cup-win_3194343

Where do I start? This was one of the best games of rugby I’d seen in a long time! Of course, that’s from the point of view of an All Blacks fan.  The Wallabies were for the most part pretty unimpressive.  Eight tries in a game, six to the All Blacks!  That’s remarkable, and so is the final score of 51-20.  To put that in perspective, the All Blacks beat Japan last year in Tokyo by 54-6.  It’s the highest score by the All Blacks against the Wallabies ever recorded, and the second highest points difference.

Anyway, here are my highlights…

Richie McCaw was sent to the sin bin very early on in this game, at that point where you weren’t yet sure how close of a game this was going to be.  However, the guy comes back on and scores two mirror image tries from line outs!  Two god damn tries in one game!  Richie continues to be a machine.

All-Blacks-lock-Brodie-Retallick-going-close-_3194316Brodie Retallick monstered his way through five Wallabies, dragging three down over the line with him for a try! Well, actually the ref ruled that he was held up.  I think the ref was wrong, though I had the benefit of video replays.  Either way, Brodie looked like a god out there.  I instantly thought of Colin Meads as he powered through the gold jerseys.  This guy is amazing.

We have no short supply of amazing. Aaron Cruden had what many are calling his best game in the number 10 jersey.  I’ve always been a fan of Crudes, and I remember a lot of very polished performances from him over the last couple of years. Games both at the international level, and in Super Rugby, like the playoff against the Crusaders last year where he had the better of Dan Carter.  In fact, I think the All Blacks were so so good on Saturday night that some of my focus was taken away from Cruden.  However, who could miss his break down the field that led to Savea’s try?  Or his over the head basketball pass?

All-Blacks-captain-Richie-McCaw-after-scoring_3194355Ryan Crotty punched through holes in the Wallabies defense and delivered great offloads. I thought he was awesome and very trustworthy in the number 13 jersey.  It’s really bad news for Crotty to have received the cheek bone fracture and to miss the second half. He now misses four weeks of rugby when he might have had a chance to start against Argentina and strengthen his claim.

Julian Savea made himself a real nuisance to the Wallabies, scoring a try and almost recovering a loose ball after a mad scramble inside the Australian 22 all on his own.  He was pretty impressive.

So were the All Black forwards.  The scrums were great, and the one that carried across the Wallabies try line led to that rarest of awards,  a penalty try!  The whole forward pack earned that try collectively.  A huge personal achievement for the entire team.

 23/Aug New Zealand v Australia Auckland 7:30 PM  51-20

Rugby Championship 2014 – Australia vs New Zealand, Sydney

Awful!

Draws should not be allowed in International test rugby.  Neither of the teams, the spectators, or the home viewers left that match anything buy unsatisfied, pissed off and frustrated.  Neither side had ANYTHING to celebrate.

Yes, the rain contributed heavily to mistake-ridden play, and I’m not going to fault the players for struggling with a slippery ball and pitch, but to blow the whistle with no winner is unacceptable to me.  If the show must always go on, rain, hail or hurricane, then at least make all that work count.  Sports games aren’t played for draws, they are played to be won or lost.  Take the game into extra time.  International games can’t be allowed to fall flat like that.

Maybe I’m just pissed that even when the All Blacks are playing badly, I felt in the back of my mind that given just a few more minutes we would have won that game and could have moved on.  Instead both the Wallabies, and more crucially the All Blacks’ winning streaks have come to an end in the same game!

Oh, and Crockett got a yellow card.  I had joked with Leanne the week before that Crockett would be sin-binned AGAIN.  I was sure of it the moment he was named as the starter to replace the injured Tony Woodcock.  Crockett seems like a nice enough guy, with strength and commitment, but when he came on as a substitute against England in June it was only a few minutes before he was looking sluggish and getting pinged by the ref for supposed scrum infringements.  Whether those yellow cards are deserved or not, Crockett has become a liability due to the reputation he has with the referees.  Do you press on and keep using him, knowing that those yellow cards will likely keep on coming?  How can you take that risk when it puts the All Blacks down to 14 men for 10 minutes?

Sadly, Keven Mealamu had some wonky line out throw ins.  He has a fantastic history in the black jersey, but it’s time to break Nathan Harris, or someone, into the role of secondary hooker.  Keven looks like he could pack it in real soon and that leaves the relative newcomer Dane Coles as our most experienced hooker.

16/Aug Australia v New Zealand Sydney 8:30 PM  12-12

The killer rugby season

Daniel Carter of New Zealand walks off injured

It looks like recent efforts by players, administrators and coaches to push the governing bodies to institute a synchronous global rugby season between northern and southern hemispheres have come to naught.  The NFL and NRL both have mandatory 16 week breaks between seasons.  Whereas top level rugby union players in the Southern Hemisphere, in order to fit in with northern hemisphere international playing windows, only get four to five weeks off to recover each year!

In their inevitable retirement from sports, players in their 30s and 40s face a life with a broken body, chronic pain and mental illness.  The obvious physicality of rugby has changed very little over the years with the exception of the pace and the length of the season which continues to increase.  Broadcasters want more games and rugby’s regional governing bodies want more money with the welfare of the players taking a backseat.

The existing season format in the southern hemisphere delivers 14 international tests a year in addition to 25 weeks of Super Rugby for top level players.  Current deals between broadcasters and rugby’s governing bodies like SANZAR interrupt the Super Rugby season to allow the June international tests, effectively placing that tournament on hiatus to accommodate international tours from the northern hemisphere.  Super Rugby then resumes through July and August, followed by the Rugby Championship which commences the full international test season.  

Players who are not selected for the international sides have a little relief, continuing in their domestic tournaments in New Zealand and South Africa which end in October.  While  the players who have not been selected to represent their country enjoy an 11-12 week break, the internationals continue until the last week of November.

Contact sports like rugby put players’ bodies through enormous physical abuse over their years crashing into one another on the pitch.  Calls for better monitoring and treatment of concussions have been growing among leading sports authorities around the world.   Rugby players selected for international sides receive the worst of it with no sign of the seasons getting shorter despite efforts by the International Rugby Players Association attempting to bring the governing bodies to the table.

One simple solution is to move the June internationals to late July, allowing Super Rugby to conclude and creating an unbroken second half of the year for international tests.  Meanwhile, the New Zealand Rugby Union clearly has no intention of shortening the playing season despite giving players its sympathy.  The NZRU added a 14th Test this year against Japan and will likely repeat this in 2014 with a match in the USA in the name of exporting the brand.

709934-richie-mccawSo, will players continue to exhaust themselves, heighten the frequency of injury and shorten their careers?   It seems it doesn’t matter who is wearing the jersey, so long as the financial machine keeps on moving.  A far cry from Rugby Union’s once vaunted idealism.  But what can be done to protect the players if one of the longest playing seasons of any contact sport can not be reduced in length?  Are players going to be the victims?  Or is the expectation for them to play every game of the season simply unrealistic?

The NZRU has tried several tactics to protect and prolong its key All Blacks, using the rotation of players in the starting XV and more recently, six month sabbaticals.  Conrad Smith is currently on sabbatical, following Richie McCaw’s example. It worked wonders for McCaw as he was finally able to get over compounded injuries and rekindle his passion and energy for the game.  However, paid leave is only an option for star players.  

With little other choice available for players to survive, rotation seems like the only available option.  With this in mind, perhaps the tour squads need to be expanded, much like the All Blacks have done in 2013, albeit with financial resources to do so thanks to healthy sponsorship deals.  With a wider squad, players can routinely be rested and their physical work load reduced with the added benefit of building depth for the side.

The dangers of not managing player welfare may be bad news for the fans and national pride, but it is far worse for the players themselves.  Look at Dan Carter, a player whose talents are universally recognized, yet he has suffered a string of injuries that have denied him continuity of play since the 2011 World Cup.  In 2013 he managed only a handful of games before celebrating his 100th cap by hobbling off the pitch at Twickenam in the 25th minute with an ankle injury.  He will now start his six month sabbatical rehabilitating rather than recovering.

Top level international rugby is brutal.  All Blacks who struggled to make the Starting XV have taken lucrative off shore contracts to play shortened, less merciless seasons in Japan.  They are thinking of their future beyond rugby and making the most of their personal playing window.  Arguably, they can make more money and prolong their careers outside of the international destruction derby.

Perhaps the onus is on the coaches and selectors.  Perhaps the culture itself needs to evolve.  Selectors must take more deliberate and overt steps to manage their players with the stress and endurance of the year long season in mind.