Sunday, April 01, 2007

“Magnificent under pressure.”

August 2, 2006

The Red Terror just got back from a few days at the lake in blistering heat. Still thinking about the tremendous All Black victory over the Wallabies last Saturday. Some people have written me saying they thought the test match was a dreary affair, but I suspect they were either fans of basketball or already knew the score in advance. For those of us watching live, the tension was incredible.

Ordinarily I'd provide a big rundown of the weekend action, but since I'm backlogged on all the news reports and we're already mid-week and tready to jump to this coming weekends' test between Australia and South Africa, I'll run with ex-AB prop John Drake's latest commentary as the definitive word.

Magnificent Under Pressure

by John Drake
New Zealand Herald
Monday July 31, 2006

What a great test match in Brisbane. Suncorp is the best rugby theatre in this part of the world.

I really believed Australia were going to win this Bledisloe battle. I told Graham Henry before the match I thought the All Blacks could be in trouble and he replied: "I know."

The Wallabies were really up for this game and the vibes were all there for an Australian victory, but this match showed how much heart and commitment these All Blacks have.

Henry's teams are noted for their defensive ability and after a shaky start to the year, this part of the game came together in Brisbane.

The All Blacks just about own the fringes around rucks and mauls, where they almost delight in smashing opponents back and have tremendous drive at the breakdowns.

As for Richie McCaw - magnificent. George Smith was almost anonymous by comparison. If Australia had had McCaw on their side, they would have won.

The great news is that the All Blacks won a close battle, the sort we would have lost a few years ago. This team performs magnificently under pressure, fighting to the death. The tackling was outstanding.

It means the Wallabies and South Africa need to come up with something special and I don't believe they have that.

Which brings me to Stephen Larkham, a fantastic footballer on his day. Maybe the rise of Dan Carter has put added pressure on Larkham, and he is striving too hard for the magical moves he once had, but Larkham is struggling to make the impact of old. He isn't helped by George Gregan, who offers no distracting threat.

At one point, the All Blacks let Gregan dance around - knowing he doesn't go anywhere any more - before someone smashed him.

And so, to the "must do better" categories and primarily the lineouts.

I'm sick of hearing that these are a work in progress. Whereas Australia may have allowed scrums to be a place of neglect, maybe we have done the same for lineouts.

The All Blacks need to bring in a specialist, the way they used Mike Cron for scrums. Cron's obsession allowed him to turn a hobby into a job, but I'm struggling to find a person of similar calibre for the lineouts.

Maybe Robin Brooke is the man, a recent enough All Black to know the ins and outs of the modern game but sufficiently removed to get a clear view and make changes. I feel that Steve Hansen and co may have got too close to things to find an answer.

It's a major problem though, and opponents know they can kick the ball out and go to work on the All Black throw-ins. It appears that at the first sign of trouble, the All Black lineout unravels, rather than recovers.

And the All Blacks might want to step up their game a level by finding more creativity when the opportunities arise out wide. Joe Rokocoko looks like a man itching to cut loose.

But he's not getting the opportunities. Maybe Conrad Smith is the answer at centre and I'm still interested to see what eventuates in that area, and the ramifications for Leon MacDonald and Mils Muliaina at fullback.

All in all, though, a terrific test at a great ground.



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