Sunday, October 16, 2011
All Black and Blue
As for Sunday's semi-final between the Wallabies and All Blacks, the game started with Quade Cooper putting the opening kick-off straight into touch, giving the All Black pack a chance to send a message to the sometimes maligned Wallaby scrum. The All Blacks opened the game with a physicality and focus that was amazing. They put the Wallabies on their back foot for the first 20 minutes-the game was played almost entirely in the Wallaby defensive zone.
All Black Fullback Israel Dagg and wing Cory Jane were fantastic. They were flawless in fielding anything that Quade Cooper and his mates kicked at them. Australia is a place where they have a reputation of being great at fielding balls in the air, but I have to say that in watching Dagg and Jane operate, they looked almost like Aussie rules football players with the way they were able to take the high ball.
Dagg was also a blistering runner. It was actually a run by Dagg down the right tryline and deft dish to Ma'a Nonu that gave the All Blacks the only try of the game.
Piri Weepu had a good game in the field at scrum-half for the Kiwis-but his gun sites were off as he missed some penalties that could have had the game all but buried in the first half. Aaron Cruden, the young fly half added a drop goal and did what the All Blacks needed-they did not need Cruden to create magic like Dan Carter, but all they needed for him was to NOT make any mistakes-and he fit the bill perfectly, making his tackles stick and making the good strategic kicks when he had to.
For me, the most dangerous Wallaby was Digby Ioane. The Queensland wing ran hard, and on more than one occasion, was able to penetrate deep with some physical runs.
This was a game that was not for the faint of heart. The hitting and physicality of this semi-final was formidable, to say the least. South African referee Joubert(Who I felt did a great job-I hope the IRB assigns him to ref the final) was sending people off the pitch to the blood bin with great regularity. The close-ups of the banged up, bloodied players made them look almost like Mixed Martial Arts fighters.
In the end, a 20-6 win for New Zealand was probably more relief than joy for the players and nerve-wracked Kiwis at Eden Park and watching on their TV's, but the All Blacks are THIS close to accomplishing what they set out to do. It has to be a tough thing to carry the expectations, hopes and desires of your countrymen, but Graham Henry's players seem more than up to the task
Rendez-vous with Les Bleus next Sunday at Eden Park in Auckland. Let the build-up begin. It now becomes a battle of nerves between the All Blacks and France. The All Blacks looking to get a gorilla sized monkey off their back. France looking to see if the 3rd time will be the charm for a team searching to lift their first-ever Webb Ellis trophy.