Tuesday, December 02, 2008

RWC 2011 pool groups announced

The Rugby World Cup 2011 Pool Allocation Draw took place yesterday.

The RWC 2011 pools are:

Pool A: New Zealand, France, Tonga, Americas 1, Asia 1

Pool B: Argentina, England, Scotland, Europe 1, Final Place Playoff

Pool C: Australia, Ireland, Italy, Europe 2, Americas 2

Pool D: South Africa, Wales, Fiji, Oceania 1, Africa 1

If Canada is to be the Americas top-gun, that puts them into a very tough group, with hosts New Zealand, and perennial powerhouse and two-time RWC finalist France.

For full details of the draw, including knock-out stage ramifications, visit the official RWC website for more info.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Player of the Year

The Red Terror 2008 Player of the Year is Brad Thorn.

NZ Rugby Museum profile here.

The "tough as teak" hardman from Mosgiel who transplanted from New Zealand to Australia as a kid, represented his adopted nation in League, then returned to the land of his birthplace - twice!! - to fulfill his dream to play for the All Blacks, came back to rugby union as a huge surprise this season, and played the code better than ever.

Most thought the 33 year old's Use-By date had expired years ago. But when All Black lock Chris Jack chose the lucre of Europe, the incumbent position was vacant with candidates thin on the ground.

Thorn answered the call of Canterbury Crusaders coach Robbie Deans, came back to the Crusaders, formed a blistering partnership with Ali Williams, and won himself a Super 14 championship.

He was then slotted, virtually by acclamation, into Graham Henry's All Black pack, for the second term of his magnificent career. Thorn was tireless, committed and toiled hard for the whole season, providing the grunt in the engine room, stiffening resolve in defence (the All Blacks didn't concede a single try on the Grand Slam tour, and conceded only three points in their last six 2nd-halves), wearing down defences with his imposing ball-carries, and cleaning out rucks. He also received his fair share of line-out ball. This season, the gripes about the All Blacks lineout and scrummage were rarely heard, and Thorn's presence was a big part of it. Nobody talks about Thorn's lack of height any more.

Brad Thorn is no longer simply the best (and really, only) world-class forward to transplant from League to Union - he may also be the very best code-breaker ever, back-or-forward. Period.

Check the silverware in his trophy cabinet from this season alone: Super 14 title, Tri-Nations title, Bledisloe Cup, Hillary Shield. There's probably a few more I can't even remember, but his sides won the important ones, that's all you need to know, and Thorn was a huge contribution in every one.

Will Thorn retire after this season? I reckon at worst he could become an archetypal "bullpen" player, who rides the bench and comes on at the 60th minute to bring steel and leadership to his team. Whatever his decision, Brad Thorn is a Legend, and Brad Thorn is the Red Terror's 2008 Player of the Year.

2008 international test calendar concludes

The All Blacks completed their third Glam Slam - and claimed the inaugural Hillary Shield (see post below) by scalping England 32-6 at Twickenham. If New Zealand first-five Dan Carter had brought his kicking boots instead of a hangover, the score could have been terminally worse. England put a spirited fight, but it was brain-dead. It seems the British sides get distracted all week focusing on how they're going toface the Haka rather than collect their heads around a coordinated game plan. Accordingly, they come out like gangbusters, give their all for 50-60 minutes, the fit Kiwis absorb all the pressure, then turn the screw against weary tiring legs.

England certainly didn't help themselves on Saturday, with four yellow cards issued by Irish ref Alain Rolland, of which one, a high Toby Flood tackle on Jimmy Cowan's head, was probably undeserved, but the others all justified on the cumulative effect of the continued illegality and repeated warnings. Rolland told Englsh skpper Steve Borthwick in the first half, when England was already down to 13 men, that he wouldn't be afraid to put 4 more in the sin-bin if they continued infringing. In the 2nd-half, Rolland asked Borthwick in disbelief if his team was trying to kill themselves. The All Black pack played to the ref. England ignored him. I suppose they were drilled to use niggly ball-killing tactics to disrupt the AB rhythm and keep the score close, and except for Carter's wobbly boot, for the first 55 minutes of the test it actually worked.

It was a dour contest. Rolland the whistle-blower was pedantic, true, but England can only blame themselves for being wilfully stupid. BartMan at TSF calls it "Yellow Fever." Rolland drew his line in the sand early, the Kiwis played that line, whereas England repeatedly tried calling Rolland's bluff and kept stepping over it.

Where to go now for England? In three home tests against the three Tri-Nations visitors, they were outscored by a cumulative 102-26.

Terrific season for the All Blacks, the team, coaching staff, selectors and faithy that was put into each - total redemption. When you think of the weight on hed coach Graham Henry's shoulders to start this year, he has done a fantastic job, and his players have really motivated themselves. Great to see their belief in Ma'a Nonu, too. The patience with him was definitely worth the wait, and a pin-prick to arseholes like me who thought he should have been discarded on the scrap heap years ago. I will gladly accept my comeuppance on that one, and full credit to Nonu for dedicating himself. The man is a superstar. As Stuart Barnes said, he's gone from a bit player to a world class center. Richie McCaw has grown in staure as a leader. Fully deserved Team of the Year.

In the days' other test action, Wales salvaged some northern hemisphere pride by beating Australia 21-18 in a pulsating thriller.

Wednesday pulls the curtain down on international rugby for 2008 when the Wallabies face the Barbarians. Their loss to Wales will sting, but it doesn't get any easier against a team stacked with champion Springboks and captained by inexhaustible All-World All Black Richie McCaw.