Friday, 26 October 2007

RFU recommends further Twickenham expansion

Well, they had their jokes at our expense.
Tee hee hee, Fi

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Mercy Buckets, France!

Simply put, France were fantastic hosts. Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Lyon, Toulouse all put on such a good atmosphere during the pool stages of the tournament. Fans from all countries mixed easily the whole time; people in shops, bars, cafes and hotels all welcomed us warmly. I am not taking anything away from Cardiff and Edinburgh, but they are what Crazy Don Rumsfeld calls ‘known knowns’ - though they were hilariously good fun, the ‘foreign field’ aspect of travelling around the south of France made for a memorable holiday. Sunny too, eh.

There was no animosity or arrogance projected between fans, no sore losing on our part that we saw - whether on the streets or in the stands. This only exists in the column inches of British newspapers.

Half an hour after the Cardiff loss (and a couple of tequilas) we were talking and laughing with French fans at the pub. And on the final weekend, French fans were still coming up to New Zealand fans, almost apologising for not going ‘all the way’, and saying the All Blacks remained the best team. That is cameraderie. Until next time, mon amis!

I seem to remember a lot of media opinions saying in 2003 that Australia had just hosted the best ever Cup, and they did take it to a new level on the back of their experience with the 2000 Olympics, but similar plaudits are now being offered up to the French.

I can’t wait until 2011, when I get the chance to welcome visiting rugger fans to our country. On reflection, here are my highlights:

Best Game: NZ v Portugal in Lyon.
Sunny day with a mental crowd cheering on both sides, especially the Portuguese. Amazing football-like atmosphere that went beserk when Portugal scored. Followed by Aussie v Wales in a nearby garden bar with loopy, dancing Portuguese fans.

Favourite Town: Aix-en-Provence.
Not a venue as such, but our base (and the All Blacks’) for Marseille). Pretty fine town, great wine & food including the best pie-cart pizza - Le Royale was our poison. Told Keith Robinson about it ... so it may have been our fault if he looked weighed down. Sorry.

Best stadium: Toulouse
Walking distance from town, and on in island in the river. Not a huge stadium, but intimate and intense with a very knowledgeable crowd of locals, and our seats were so close we could hear the tackles. Halfway there was a Cup Village of bars & bid TVs to watch other matches.

Best All Black
A tough one this, but I’ll pick Dougie Howlett. Thought he was essential for the game against France, and his work rate had been awesome against Scotland - he was ball hungry. He will be missed. Big ups to Alastair Williams, Jeremy Collins and Nicholas Evans too. Richie - no need to comment ... always class, they are changing the rules to cope with you, dude.

Best Player of The Rest
Hard to pick just one: Jason Robinson for his dancin’ feet and sheer guts - a class act. Nicky Little for that Fiji v Wales effort. Victor Matfield, awesome lock, and Simon Shaw too. Hernandez for adding a little Carlos to it all. Kid Steyn - he has ‘X’.

Best Game (that I saw)
Wales v Fiji. We watched it in Toulouse, at a bar by the river after NZ v Romania, and it was one of the best days of the whole trip. Awesome festival atmosphere, and one of the best games I have ever seen ... through bleary eyes, natch.

Moment of Doom
Forget the forward pass. The advantage Barnes gave us against France in the last minutes; Lukey took a pot shot, and the advantage vanished ... but a new scrum or penalty may have won it for us.

Best try (that I saw)
Kosuke Endo’s try for Japan against Wales. TV showed he tracked 110 metres before he touched down. Talk about sweeping, length of the field stuff.

Best Thing about being there
The atmosphere, the crazy bands in the stands (get them for 2011!) and the PA playing that loopy little bugle tune at every restart, followed by the crowd screaming ‘Ole’ or ‘Allez’. Beats all that loud ZM/FM pants music we get at Super 14 in Wellington. I hate Blur’s ‘Song 2’ so much these days.

Best Anthem
Argentina - who else would have a 30-40 second overture or intro before the actual singing. Tear jerking stuff, apparently.

Best Strip
Duh ... All Blacks. The worst was our ‘away’ silver abomination. Flick Adidas, they have done nothing for us. BRING BACK CANTERBURY!

I could go on, but I won’t. Time to get back to life.

See you in Aotearoa in 2011.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Le Grand Final

Not exactly a classic was it? There was more nervousness on show than genuine tension, and in the end I thought South Africa managed to play more like England, than England. There was no shape to either back line, and forwards just hung off, never committing to anything - they all looked a bit rudderless. It was probably the most boring final I have watched, and hopefully it draws a line under the whole ‘The best defence is a truck load of defence’ style. It was another game where only a couple of players on each team would get more than 7/10 for their performances. Viktor was a true victor though.

South Africa have though capped off an impressive year, what may be the end of an era usher in if ‘transformation’ really kicks in. At least Jake White can produce a World Cup as an argument for the government not being too radical or going as far as that being the last time we see a team called the Springboks at a World Cup. One thing I enjoyed about ITV's coverage (just one, mind) was Francois Pienaar’s input; he was passionate, yet succinct, unbiased (on camera) and informative. I bet he is happy.

John Smit also impressed me after the full-time whistle. No sky-punching, screaming histrionics from him - he just stood still, taking it all in with a look of pure satisfaction on his face, right up until he got the Cup in his hand. Dignity personified?

England: Great run though it was, they just did not play enough rugby to win a World Cup. Sheer pluckiness, personal messages from Kenny Rogers and a phenomenal left boot alone could not do it. The line out failed, the kicking game failed, and the back line again looked pedestrian at best. In the end it was a mighty title defence that fell at the last hurdle.
The call on the disallowed Cueto ‘try’ by the TMO (sorry, the ‘Australian TMO’ as they call him up here in t’North) was right. With a sniff of touch involved it was never going to go England’s way and he had plenty of looks at it; had it been merely a grounding issue I think they may have got it. It was a great break by Tait began that move, and he is one of the shining lights for England, a player they rightly have talked up for two years, and with more like him on the books, its time for a Young Guns team building to 2011. Let Vickery rest, and sell Dallaglio to an Indian breakers yard.

The player power that supposedly got them to the final could not win it, and it will not rebuild them - they must look to 2011 now, and not blow it again like they did after 2003 ... if they can sort the club v country situation out. England have the raw materials to truly dominate the sport, at least in the Northern Hemisphere if not the world, and like it or not rugby and the World Cup need a strong England. The Six Nations will be a true test of whether anything from the tournament sticks ... then of course the two tests in New Zealand next year [sound of licking chops].

The final was totally inferior to the France v Argentina game the night before. Obviously there was not a World Championship riding on that game, and less pressure helped it as a contest, but Argentina were superb, from 1 through to 15 playing an aggressive, open game that went against their previous tactical nouse and simply left Les Bleus stunned. I thought that Honiss and his two touchies showed a lot of restraint in the first 40 minutes, and by not over-reacting with cards they allowed the match to be an 80 minute contest. Old and young, the Pumas have some real stars & match winners, moulded by the professional careers in France.

It was a grand final in only one way - loads of previously disgruntled Kiwis got in excess of 1,000 pounds/euros each for their final tickets. Cue more currency flowing in, inflationary pressure ... now the ABs are to blame for the housing boom!

With a podium finish the Argentinians really must be admitted into some form of expanded Tri-Nations, or a new tournament between World Cups, along with more big games for the Pacific teams. More tests is not simply the answer; quality or at least meaningful games must reign over straight quantity but despite all the accusations of the NZRU behaving like a brutal plantation owner towards Polynesia, the biggest hurdle to genuinely freeing up Test rugby between World Cups remains the British and French clubs' obsession with the football model of squads, ownership, salaries and player release. Until there is a professional league in Argentina though, how can this move forward? There is nothing for the French based players to come home to, and indeed their coach and star No. 10 may both well be at Leicester next season. Fancy a Balti?

Lord Sphincter cut loose another series of insane utterances over the weekend. I think we should actually take any dig at the All Blacks or New Zealanders as a compliment now. Given the fact that we went out two rounds ago, and never even played Mighty England, it really is a measure of this bitter Welshman’s paranoia about our superiority that he rants about it constantly. Was he bullied when he visited Palmerston North with the Lions in 2005? Keep it up, Jonesy, you and the rest of your chums at The Times make me laugh. They are human though, I mean look at their pre-tourny picks ... but calling Paul Sackey a ‘dark diamond’? Well, isn't that the sort of Colonial Overlord attitude the ANC are trying to stamp out in South Africa?

These arrogant, parochial, Empire-obsessed snobs have already written off 2011, 48 hours after the 2007 final. New Zealand is now being accused of being some third world backwater that will billet teams & visitors in tents, and is manipulating the IRB into cutting the teams to 16, introducing a round-robin format, and changing the laws to ensure we win. Where do they get this shite from?!

Been interesting readin gwriter’s World Cup XVs, and you have to agree that no All Blacks is probably the right call. Our stars dimmed with two rounds to go, and anyone who did play out of their skins (namely Williams & Howlett) just don’t deserve to be ahead of the French, Argentinian, South African players. A lot of by the English press put Wilkinson & Robinson in, but I think that’s sentimentality.

And as a player leaving NZ (for Toulouse), and safe from recrimination, Byron Kelleher has seen fit to break silence a bit on our quarter final loss and squad rotation.

The new laws, the EVLs, look certain for Super 14 next year, but how long before Test rugby adopts them is unknown. Naturally we in New Zealand prefer the open rugby that the All Blacks specialise in, but we have seen once more in 2007 that it does not win World Cups. Rugby is an international (not global) sport, and that geographical spread does produce different styles (and disagreement over their respective merits), but variety is good and everyone has to adapt to win the thing. Are the new rules going to be just crowd pleasing effort to homogenise the very parts of the game that bred the variety? Or will they benefit the game truly?

If rules and their interpretation are not clear, clarify them. Don’t change for change sakes. This may well worsen the North/South political gap at the IRB buffet.

Whoah. Too long - round up of our Cup highlights to follow soon, as our sign off. Is anyone still reading? Well, it gives me something to do at work ... when I am not busy I mean.


Saturday, 20 October 2007

I Know Jonny’s got good range, but ...

This morning saw this appear on a plinth in Trafalgar Square. You could say people in the UK are waking up to the fact there is a big game of rubgy on tomorrow night, especially after their million pound boys choked. ... er, I mean, lost the Euro qualifier against Russia on Wednesday. Rugby is starting to dominate the media like never before. Well, not since 2003 anyway. Two weeks ago you had to come in about 7 or pages from the back to find any rugby in most papers, now the bandwagon is rolling on merrily.

Anyone checked whether the deposit on the open top bus in refundable?

Is it wrong for me to bacl South Africa solely for Southern Hemisphere reasons? Why is my anti-England stance seen as ungracious by my workmates or friends here? I back them in football - until the inevitable slip-up - but not in rugby. I mean, I did cheer them on against France in the Six Nations ... I want, and like, to see them play good, attacking rugby, which they are capable of. If they win it, they have to win it in style ... not just off Jonny’s boot. Fat chance according to Spiro Zavos.

I just hope it is a cracker of a game; tense, hard up front and explosive in the backs without whistle deciding the engraver’s job. It’s a cliché, but a ‘game of two halves’ would be great, seeing the teams adjust to each other’s styles, maybe counter-adjusting. Then the term World Champion will be deserved.

But meanwhile, back in 5th place ... The Guardian has a dig at us still obsessing over Wayne Barnes here. Considering what they source is almost word for word what they themselves published the day before, it serves no purpose. And what is The New Zealander? Are they making up media outlets now? I have never heard of that paper / website.

Reckon Planet Rugby got out of bed on the Northern side too with this line:
Just two weeks after they bowed out of the World Cup the All Blacks are faced with the prospect of losing the only thing that justifies their claim as the best rugby team in the world, the number one spot on the official International Rugby Board (IRB) rankings.
What do they mean “the only thing”? I mean its not like we got to the No. 1 spot a fortnight before the tournament started; we’ve been there for most of the preceeding four years, and we’ll be back there come June next year. If we played anyone tomorrow I reckon we would win. Of course it is a major dent in our pride that we did not convert that form into the Webb Ellis Cup - again - but most people know that we are consistently the best team, and rugby fans around the world will still come to see the All Blacks play because of it. At this tournament, we were the only team that played attacking rugby, game in, game out, so ask yourself, ‘Would you really be happy if NZ won the the Cup by playing like the All Blacks, or like England?’. Brazil’s soccer stars were not popular at home when they won the Football World Cup in 1994, in the US ... they were criticised for a playing boring, un-Brazilian, non-Samba style game.

Its a World Cup thing. Are Italy the best football team in the world?

New Zealand are the Brazil of rugby, so why should we change our natural game just to win a pissy small mug with a pineapple on the lid? Keep it up I say - but at least practice drop goals more, eh.

Oh, come on the Lions as well in the Air New Zealand Cup final tonight, or early Saturday morning UK time. Hopefully with Steve Walsh out of the country we can get our hands our hands on a prize again. And which will be bigger ? ... the crowd or John Banks’ ego, I mean ... majority.


Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Spin Cycle

Now, I prefer not to read The Times, in fact I try to avoid it even in an ablutions emergency, but at lunch on Sunday at a very nice Wandsworth boozer (for Ras’ birthday) it was sitting in front of me. What a pile of vicious, scurrilous, unilateral bile it was. How do they get off printing the deranged ramblings of bitter old fools like Alastair Campbell & that Welsh-born, English RFU sycophant S Jones. These two spout crap like media accredited Lord Haw Haws). Why does a mainstream broadsheet feel it needs to deal in this dross? Real rugby fans pay for their tickets, not like these lesser sorts. They have such an incredible chip on their shoulders about the All Blacks that they get given a double spread to utter forth about New Zealand - six days after beating Australia, then France!? They have not even played us this year (in fact they have not played us at a World Cup since 1995).

They may well end up the only World Champs with an inferiority complex. Again.

Campbell, you may remember him from previous invasions such as “45 Minutes From Whitehall”, is now a freelance Rent-a-Quote for Anything over here in the UK, and is an expert in offering his five quid's worth, even on any sport it seems. In the 2005 Fifa World Cup, last years Ashes, and now the 2007 Rugby World Cup he pops up constantly to give his ‘spin’ on things. However, as I believe Graham Henry said during 2005 Lions Tour, something along the lines of Campbell having no understanding of, and no affinity for, the game of rugby. Back in your hole.

Mind you, so much of the media in this event is not even about the actual games. It’s opinion and anything but accurate reportage - from all nations. Even this assemblage of bits and pixels is only the opinion of an ex-hockey player.

I do not really even get how the arrogant label can be applied to us? I honestly do not remember any All Blacks or any of their coaches displaying this arrogance we are tagged with; we do not berate other teams, players or administrators as a habit. Quiet confidence, no matter how misplaced it has now proven to be, is a completely different thing, and when English rugby basically consists of 30-odd plucky blokes, with the rest of the game’s structure still structurally and politically weak, these hacks should really pull their heads in.

I think they will find enough plaudits coming from genuine rugby fans for the Poms, especially the players that are genuinely world class, but when these hacks slag every one else off despite - against all odds - actually getting the chance to defend their World Championship you have to wonder what energy source or arcane power they use to travel between our dimension and theirs.

Henry seems to be getting more support - and vote for Project Ted at ruggerblogger.

Bernie the Door comes clean about his unspoken love for the All Blacks.

England v South Africa - no one predicted that. I mean, I think a lot of people did tout the Springboks as finalists, a long time ago ... and to be fair it actually caps off a fairly solid year for South Africa. This is why I do not bet on rugby - nothing I predict ever comes off. I should just shut up now, and shift the focus of this whole blog to something else.

Good luck to both teams. I suppose one positive is that we may see two teams, at least start, with different styles of rugby.

My wishes for the World Cup Final on Saturday night:
- Will Greenwood’s mic fails on ITV ... for 80 minutes
- Nelson Mandela leaves Prince Harry hangin’ at a high five attempt
- Laurence Dallaglio is ignored for post match comment
- We get to see some tries, you know, those five pointy things
- If England win, Tama Iti’s guerillas set off to Twickenham to steal the Cup for us all.

Monday, 15 October 2007

It gets worse

If the week just gone by was hard to bear as a Kiwi living in London, then things now are going to be worse ... and come next Sunday we may simply go into hiding.

Fi and I came clearly off the fence yesterday. We picked France because they beat us, but last night we found ourselves at a friend’s birthday out in E16, surrounded in enemy territory, and the natives were waving their plastic St George flags and inflatable hammers in our faces - jingoistic tat left over from when they last dipped out in whatever football tournament they were in. I tell you, there is nothing worse than condescending sympathy from a Pom who could not probably name 4 people in their own team. I bit my tongue and muttered into my Feijoa vodka.

Boring, boring Arsenal ... I mean England; they’ve done it again. Their play is ugly, it’s mostly one dimensional, it is so far from 15 man rugby it hurts, and most of those players probably put in only solid, 6/10 performances ... but cumulatively it was an effective tournament style again (their only style) and found themselves in the final. Well done. (Teeth grinding)

Was it simply last week replayed? With France as us, and England grinding them down? I thought so. Wilko was such a trooper, and Jason Robinson is also a huge talisman for them, but take away Traille’s brain explosion that allowed Lewsey to fall over for a try after 80 seconds (with condescending head pat too) and it was all boot. That’s enough to win tight games I suppose, but I maintain England are still too slow when throttle is needed, rudderless in the backs and just plain terrified of width - if Argentina get past the Springboks tonight (a game I will watch, but can’t predict) then Contepomi and Hernandez may well drill them all over the pitch.

Tickets for next week? Oh, those puppies are worth a fortune now. My Mum went last night, but is selling her final tickets. As England scrap their way to another game, all the City Boys and part-time fans are seeping out the Clive Woodwork ... these sorts will not hesitate to pay £2,000, hell, £5,000 simply because they can, and want to relive Agincourt even if they have to charter a jet. Tosseurs ... but nice of them to beef up the retirement funds of Kiwis.

I have heard mutterings that a lot of people in NZ want Graham Henry to stay on - and why not. I think that would show a lot of maturity by us, and since the guy only lost something like 7 out of 48 games he deserves to have another crack with maybe a rejigged team under him. He was possibly 2 minutes from redemption in Cardiff.

Sigh. Have to leave the house now, and walk out in to the ‘Newest Rugby Nation in the World’. At least we live in E1 ... the locals round here don’t focus on rugby too much.

Now am I right in thinking, that because France lost last night, they failed to overtake us in the rankings, so unless SA win, England and Argentina can’t move high enough to pip us either. We’d stay the number one team in the world? Crazy.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Life (and the Tournament) Goes On

There is a lot of rugby left still, and I want to watch it now. After the weekend I thought I would just pass on the remaining games, but why should I? Doesn’t logic dictate that I should now follow France, the team that dared to beat us? Surely it would stroke our egos just that little bit to have the team that beat us go all the way to lift the trophy? Clearly Fi and I would liked to have gone to Paris this weekend, and in fact we have Eurostar tickets and hotels booked ... but without the All Blacks playing it seemed pointless. We’ll take the ticket refund, stick the telly on here in London come Saturday night and probably see a good game. France v England ... who in the world could be more pumped up than these two teams now?

And who deserves it most? Do the poll to the right - if nothing else it’ll be interesting to see if anyone besides our Mum & Dads are reading.

Will the French be content to cat and mouse it again, waiting for cracks? Will the resurgent Men of St George come a cropper against a pack that can actually scrum? Sheridan has been canonised again this week by the UK media; will it last? Surely some interesting head to heads though: Elissalde v Gormasall, Sea Bass v Simon Shaw, Jonny v Beauxis, Betsen & Dusautoir v Moody, Regan v Ibanez. It could be a great game, though I think England have already won their World Cup. Sigh.

Poor Doug Howlett! Looks like expensive French pop might have got to him and the others here in London into a bit of trouble. Either that or he freaked out at the bill for his room. Trust me, even though the Hilton Heathrow does not sound flash, that place (like all UK hotels) is not cheap, but £12,500 on the bar! Picture Sione Luaki asking the barman repeatedly for a “Quick F*ck”. These guys get so much free Steinlager they have no idea what a drink actually costs. Who signed for that tab? Red Card yourself, lads. There must be some cracking CCTV footage floating round though. At least Dougie could have attacked a French car? I feel a new ad campaign and Peugot endorsement package for Doug coming on ...

I think with what I have read in the last few days that we are all calming down about the early exit. There has been humour, reflection ... and even strategic planning, like this from The Dropkicks via Some Foreign Field. I love the idea. We need the Pumas NOW, and with all the excitement being generated in Argentina over the rugby, I am sure Argentinians would love to see their team play at home - not in Spain like UK media keep banging on about. Even Syd Millar says there is no room in the 6N for them. Will someone at SANZAR or Thorndon Quay get planning this straight away, so we are ready in 2010 when the current TV BS deal ends. Does anyone know if Murdoch has a presence in Argentina? That may affect News Corp’s enthusiasm for letting the Pumas in.

Can’t remember where I read it, but someone, somewhere suggested making all end of year tour games into qualifiers, or somehow integral to establishing seedings for future World Cups, so that the resulting pools are more balanced (noticed how all semi-finalist came from just two pools i.e. not ours or Australia’s?). The logic is that countries would not send weak squads away because it could affect their World Cup seeding. It has merit.

And while we are on the subject of revolutionising rugby, how about a revolutionary who played it: Che Guevara

But in the big picture, what does it all mean? It took me a few days to pick up a paper again here, and then a couple more before I returned to reading the front pages first ... and then I started reconnecting with the real world. Puts it in perspective, huh?

Other news:
Maybe we’ll find time to talk about the Springboks v Las Pumas tomorrow - personally I’d back the Argetinians - they showed a lot o’ spunk, and their football skills at time outshine their rugby skills in the loose. They can toe ahead a ball so well, they don’t need forward passes from hands ... let it go.

Allez Les Bleus (harrumph)

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Words of Wisdom from Ted

“Part of our dignity and part of our composure and part of our ability to do it on the world stage and be respected is to make sure that we don't bitch and moan,"

“This country needs to acknowledge the strength of the opposition and the way they played otherwise it will be seen as sour grapes.”

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The High is so High, the Low is so Low

Walking to work this morning I had to skip through a load of depressing Weezer and Goldfrapp songs on my iPod before settling on the Headless Chickens. The lyrics to Donde Esta la Pollo pretty much sum up how I'm feeling!

Lu and I were both pretty homesick this morning, lets just say there was no hurry to get to work and face the music (Swing Low....) . There aren't even any Aussies on my floor to commiserate with, although there is one rogue Scot! Really missing the process of shared mourning and discussion and (to quote Lu) 'self-flagellation on a national scale'. Love how Anton Oliver offers us a cup of tea with the ABs in no-mans land (what a poet), cos the first thing we did when we got back to the hotel was make a cup of tea, despite a day at the pub!

I really thought we were going to do it, right up to the last 5 minutes. ruggerblogger and Some Foreign Field have really summed it up (as well as Lu below), so I won't go on... It would better not to have shelled out £8 for the commentary radios as they just added to our anger at the reffing decisions (and lack of).
You can put in your 2 cents in at Scrumbag and express your opinion of where it all went wrong.

We had an amazing time at the 5 games we went to. We had a great holiday and it was a fantastic experience. We really loved the French hospitality and bantering with people from all over the world, getting to see our heroes play some stunning rugby.

Thanks to everyone who's put up with us rabbiting on about rugby, hung out with us in France, Scotland and Wales and travelled with us over the past 6 weeks. Thanks to Richie and the boys.... all the best to those moving on and those sticking around. Maybe its a 24-year cycle (oh I feel so old!).

On a positive note, the Kiwi spirit is bouncing back already, with 10 reasons why the loss ain't all bad

Last word - the ABs are still the best looking team in the world, and no-one can take that away!

Monday, 8 October 2007


A nod to Griff’s message that, and it sums it up really. Now 24 hours has passed, I have calmed down since wanting to put a foot through one of Millenium Stadium’s plethora of urinals, and I think I can shrug the shoulders and move on. Hell, aren’t we getting used to this?

It started to become obvious with 25 mins left - that nagging, sinking feeling that the pendulum had swung, and the game was slipping from the All Blacks. France showed a lot of heart, they were backed by incredibly vocal support all night.

Where did they get all the tickets? Who thought 70,000 people would turn up to watch a game of force back?

Again we had great seats - we could see Rodney’s dreads strain as the French forwards were pulling them on the deck. And we were close enough that we all saw Michalak’s forward pass (even Francois Pelous’ Mere, Pere & Wife who were next to us) right in front of us, but no one with a whistle or a flag did. That was the nail in the coffin, or Henry’s wrong rub of the green. Fact is, we came up short (no Plan B ... again?), and it could have just as easily happened in the semi or the final had we got through. I think we got strangled more than us choking.

Add to that, the disappearing act of the advantage the ref gave us when it looked to me the French had slapped down the ball in front of the posts in the dying seconds and ... well, here I go again. C’est la vie.

We had an awesome time at the games we got to; the game against in Portugal in Lyon was a great day out (please keep it at 20 teams and respect the minnows), and Toulouse was also a joy. I actually wish that all our games were in France as Edinburgh and Cardiff just felt less carnivallike, or maybe just a little too familiar. Probably all the wasted New Zealanders - it went from carnival to just plain Carnage.

I just feel sorry for all the people coming over from NZ on tours now (my Mum included) who won’t be watching their own team now .... scalp the tickets! If there is a silver lining, its a cash one for us, as our package guarantees us a refund of the semi final we did not make. So, voila ... Xmas in Morocco is paid for.

Hope the Argies go through now against Scotland. And I hope that France have enough in the tank to fight off a revitalised England ... i.e. I want someone to win it for their first time.

Thanks France. Thanks Ted, Steve & Wayne ... thanks ABs. And good luck the outbound ABs: Chris Jack, Aaron Mauger, Luke McAlister, Anton Oliver, Carl Hayman, Byron Kelleher ... did I forget anyone? There’s so many. Oh, Dougie Howlett ... why were you not on the field?

By next August we’ll be No. 1 again, so why is this thing such a ‘Holy Grail’? We do bette rwhen we are underdogs.

Doesn’t it suck there was not a World Cup in 2005?

Fi ... time to step up and post, lass.

Friday, 5 October 2007

I’m off the fence ...

Cover of this morning’s Sport magazine, the freebie you get at Tube stations.

Now, is this the face of the World’s highest paid player, or a slightly camp Austrian electro DJ? It makes Tony Woodcock’s effort of a year or so ago look completely acceptable.

What a drop kick ... Sweep the leg, Jonny.!!!

The Monkey On Our Back

No not Eddie Jones, I mean this obsession with the World Cup.

If we win it, then awesome; that wee simian is off our back - and in the trophy cabinet.

If we do not win it - and I will qualify that by saying that losing the final is an even more palatable result than losing this quarter final or a semi final exit - then I do not think we can ever expect to. No national union can do more to construct a smooth campaign than the NZRU & The Three Wise Men have done. To not win it after this amount of preparation and control means that it is not worth worrying about - it is not a true barometer of Test rugby over a four year period, or even for the calendar year it takes place in.

Choke, schmoke. The World Cup is simply a few knockout games preceeded by some friendlies. It’s basically a Champions Tournament like cricket & hockey have.

However, I think we can and will go all the way. This team still has a lot more to show.

I don’t to want to make a score prediction for Saturday. It may be close, but I am not worried: We will win it. And while I’m feeeling optimistic, England will pip Aussie by a drop goal again, Springboks over Fiji naturally (without Little), and Scotland to end the Pumas run. What am I thinking?

Now ... some tidbits for the build up:

Some Foreign Field
has some interesting stats if you like that sort of thing. They kind of level the playing field for the final eight, but that is my point from above ... it’s on the day from now on in.

Laporte's team has raised a few eyebrows, most notably Beauxis at 10 and Traille back at fullback. I am sure (through the haze of mulled wine) that when we beat Les Bleus in Lyon last year, Traille was thrust into first five, and he kicked like a donkey.

“They are not the All Blacks, they are New Zealand-ers,” he said. “You are given the impression of a myth, of a miracle – but they have only been champions of the world once. They are very, very good, but we are aiming to expose the myth a little. They are just like the rest, 15 chaps on a pitch . . . 15 good players.” says Bernie the Door.

Is Laporte a dodgy plonker as some of the Toulousains I spoke to thought. He has picked a surprise team, got one foot in politics, and has been accused of behaving like Del Boy with signed team jerseys. Is he crackin gup?

And Paul Rees of The Guradian is already bagging us for 2011 - it will be our fault if the IRB drop the number of teams to 16 due to our small stadiums. Um, I remember my mates trekking to Huddersfield for NZ v Italy in 1999. Hardly Wembley was it? Kiwis will go.
“The NZ Rugby Union is adamant that it will not be able to pitch ticket prices as high as its French counterparts have because, it says, their rugby followers will stay at home rather than pay over the odds, even in the knock-out stages. It wants the number of finalists to be reduced to 16 to cut costs, so reducing the number of "uncommercial" fixtures such as Romania against Portugal or Japan against Canada.”
Still loving this. Who thought Habana would be stood up like this ... ever?!

And finally, some good old YouTube - still makes the hairs on your neck stand up.


Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Da dum ding, dum da dum ding ...

That’s a stink phonetic effort at the Split Enz song ‘History Never Repeats’. Why you say? Well ... is history, in fact, about to repeat itself as we hit the crucial knockout stage because once again (drum roll) we are rolling out a (very talented) All Black fullback at centre.

So will it be the French partying like it’s 1999 again? Or will we knock out the hosts?

I think I was right in saying the XV for the quarter final would be more conservative than we have seen so far, but I was thinking Mauger & Smith as the centre pairing ... I honestly didn’t think they’d start Mils there. Is this merely a defensive move? A reshuffle based on truly constructing a brick wall of ABs across the pitch to soak up everything they throw or kick at us ... including SeaBass? I rekkin.

Add to that our usual nippy bench and it is a very good team; just one that has not played together much, or at least not for a while in the case of Mils being at 13.

I’m buying into it, but I’ll be nervously watching through my fingers.

See you at Y Mochyn Du

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Unbeaten, unbeatable ... or untested?

Toulouse was a cracker. The annointed home of French rugby, and soon to be home of Byron Kelleher, really put it on for this game, providing a full World Cup Village down on the banks of La Garonne, with numerous bars and big screens for all the fans to watch the games. Situated about halfway between the downtown and the Stade de Toulouse - which is on an island in the middle of the river - the village was the first real example we had seen so far of a host city really providing a focal point for visiting (and local) fans. Add to that, the table service at the outdoor bars, the large plasma screens and naturally the chance to wind down after the All Black game and watching some more amazing rugby, well it added up to a brilliant day.

I know modern Test rugby can be a bit obsessed with bums on seats, especially when we tour and are sniffing out the biggest gate we can get our hands on, but surely the All Blacks should revisit Toulouse as soon as possible, at the expense of Marseille if need be. We all really enjoyed Toulouse - every bar we went to the locals were rugby pundits - Lyon and Marseille did not have that vibe. My favourite was the barman of a place down by the University that had so many old rugby jerseys and socks hanging on the wall that the place smelt like a changing room. He was convinced that his French team are true quality, but that Bernie La Porte is a nutter.

The game against Scotland last week had let doubts into my mind; we just did not look convincing, but the game versus Romania restored some faith. We were sitting right on the touch line and the passing was relentless - our backs were hurling the ball at each other, simply willing the moves to continue. They did, to their glorious conclusions. I’m gushing.

The crowd were “Ooohing“ and “Aaahing” at everything we pulled off, and though they also cheered Romania on as much as they could, the utterances of such Anglo-French words as “magnifique” were clearly aimed at the All Blacks.

So welcome back Keith Robinson and take a bow Nick Evans - great efforts. Add to that Mauger anchoring things (a rudder for the bairns like Toeava?), the adaptability of our squad in general, and I think we are looking much better for the quarter final. And so far, no injuries. I think our ‘Top XV’ may actually prove to be a bit more conservative than people think - we do need wise heads and experienced players ... which definitely puts Luke on the bench. Lets face it, when Mauger has a big game, the All Blacks win.

And with loose units like Michalak and Pointrenaud in their team, the French have more worries with handling pressure and preventing les explosions e brain..

Allez les Noirs! Onward to Paris!