All Blacks around the World (I): Spain

I start a new post with a new theme: How are the All Blacks seen around the World. I think that it is a pity that people in New Zealand don't realise how much their team is cherished and respected abroad.

So, let this post be a way to know what the All Blacks mean for people outside the Island of the Long White Cloud. We'll start with a country I know well: Spain. In Spain rugby is not among the top 5 sports... nor the top 10 sports... nor the... ok, rugby is a completely unknown sport, an amateur sport in a time when even Canadian Canoe C1 specialists (not that it is the most popular sport in Spain, either) get enough money to live.

However, the All Blacks can be proud of having a name in Spain, and more people is likely to recognise the haka than to tell the name of any single one rugby player past or present. We can, by the way, even find a bar with a section fully dedicated to the All Blacks in Madrid.

Yes, here you will find it:

Steinlager Madrid

Provided you are patient enough to deciphrate articles in spanish you will get a piece of information about the bar and its relation with the All Blacks, history of the All Blacks, a guide to do the haka and a vast description of the activities that the bar offers.

(Can you think of a farther from New Zealand place dedicated to the All Blacks?)

International coaching moves

2007 is almost over and new coaches have been appointed for the next period. These are the coaches for the 6 Nations and Tri Nations unions and Argentina:

New Zealand: Graham Henry, 2 years contract, reappointed.

Australia: Robbie Deans, 4 years contract, new appointment.

South Africa: Unknown

England: Brian Ashton, indefinite, reappointed

Ireland: Eddie O'Sullivan, 4 years contract, reappointed (before RWC)

Scotland: Frank Hadden, 2 years contract, reappointed

France: Marc Lievrèmont, 4 years contract, new appointment

Wales: Warren Gatland, 2 years contract, new appointment

Argentina: Unknown

Hayman on the wrong side of the haka?

NZRU has confirmed that matches against european clubs during tours in Europe will be played again. Two names have been given: Stade Français and Munster but the actual dates are yet unknown.

The coaching stuff has asked to do so as they claim they have little chance to try emerging players, as nowadays every game they play is a test.

It seems that 2008 calendar gets really stuffy, and should the Super 14 final see a NZ team on it, the players would have only a week before the international season starts. An international season consisting of no less than 14 tests (15 if the game against Argentina is confirmed).

But what intrigues us must is that with the massive exile of All Blacks to Europe (McAlister, Mauger, Hayman, Kelleher, Jack...) is: Shall we see a match confronting any of them against the All Blacks? Shall we watch them facing the haka?

Could you imagine Carl Hayman on the wrong side of the haka as someone else is leading "Ka Mate"?

Obsession, the downfall, Deans says.

The Wallaby coach has done a little bit of talking to the media for the first time after his arrival to Australia and he has said two things that seem of real interest:
  1. New Zealand is full of talent, and the key is "what you do with it".
  2. Obsession with World Cup has been All Blacks' downfall.

It is his purpose to go step by step, week after week, in his new job.

What do you think? Were we all too anxious at winning the Cup and was that our downfall?

Did you know...?

That Henry's best streak as All Blacks coach came from August 13th 2005 down to August 26th 2005 when his team went undefeated for 15 consecutive tests, the second longest streak for the All Blacks in 100 years?

This and many more statistics I have found on

Robbie Deans to coach Wallabies

"I am ready for the next stage" Robbie Deans said early this week.
And this next stage has just started today 3.00 AM (which is 3 PM or so on the other side of the world)

The ARU appointed for the first time in its history a foreigner for the Wallabies coach job and Deans gets thus the deserved opportunity that the NZRU didn't give to him. It is going to be a busy season for Robbie Deans as he holds the Cursaders coach job, and it is going to be interesting to see him coaching at the Cursaders the players that he will eventually face as rivals some months after (or, seen from the other side of the Tasman, it will be interesting to see him against the teams whose players he is to coach some months after).

Some online media keep their particular "crusade" on who's best, pointing to the Bledisloe will as the judge (As though it would be fair for anyone).

For my part, I can only wish him the best results as Wallaby coach except when he's facing the All Blacks; here or there, in Canberra or in Dunedin, in Durban or in Buenos Aires.

Why did we lose?

December the 12th. Two months ago we received a painful defeat that left most of us empty. It happened at Cardiff, October the 6th. The score was close, 18-20, the tears were intense, the scars so deep.

It still hurts to me but as a new year is drawing near, I think it's time to move on. And I think having my say on what went wrong is a required step in that direction.

Over the past two months I have read this and that and I have not got a clue on what went wrong. I know the numbers: $ 20 million spent, the reconditioning program, the number of games every player had, I can tell you the surprises of that day's line up: Howlett not in, Mils at centre, Robinson at second line, All Blacks coach claiming that the team had to learn from the errors on 2003...

I have gathered a few different points of view on why did we lose:

  • Planet Rugby has an interesting post. It states that New Zealand did not play that day the way it used to do. Too many rucks, much too different of what had taken the All Blacks to beat France the previous 5 times they met.

  • At Yahoo! Answers you will find lots of opinions: Most of french fans blame it to over-confidence. Some say the All Blacks proved not to being able to win a close game, some say the player selection was not good and some say simply France was better that day.

  • If you can separate fair opinions from gossip, maybe you could try to get some decent opinions at NZ Herald.
  • Graham Henry blaming on to referee Wayn Barnes can be found at Scoop

But none of this has really convinced me. What is missing? What needs to be filled?

It is hard to tell. Players tried their best, the coach tried his best, but so did the french, and I think there were some key points that should be merged to have a decent answer to the question WHY?

  1. France had been studying New Zealand for the last two years, trying different game displays in every previous loss to see how to tame the All Blacks. They used this experience to their benefit.
  2. The gameplan that France proposed was queer enough for All Blacks not to be familiar with. True that french players were not familiar with it either, but the fight of the french was against the All Blacks, not against the gameplan. The top favourites were drawn to something they did not expect.
  3. The french defense was superb. Much has been said of the number of rucks that the All Blacks provoked. But of course they would have preferred line breaks as they usually did during the previous tests against France! The high number of rucks created show the hability of french players to successfully defend. Don't forget that Laporte claimed that discipline had been the key.
  4. Fear. Once again, New Zealand team seem to have put their sights a bit further and they did not expect this game to be particularly difficult. When things went really ill and France scored their 20th point, fear was on All Blacks faces. I recall the previously uttered words by Jonah Lomu: "Silently everybody knows what they have to do, they live by the fear of losing." I am afraid that fear was too present for players and that did not allow them to manage a close contested game as they have previously (without any fear) in a number of times, namely this very season at Durban or at the winner-takes-all match at Auckland.
  5. Strategy. The drop goal should not be once and again overlooked as a resource. And I think it is a weakness that ought not to belong to the All Blacks. It is true we all like seeing tries. It is true that we don't like too much kicking, but when a clear chance is in front of you as it was on October the 6th, is it wise to overlook it? I don't question the brave decision of not taking a drop goal then, I question the decision of not taking any drop goals.
  6. It happens. It is part of the sport. Wayne Barnes could made a wrong call. It happens. Luke McAlister ought not to have missed the kick, it happens.
And to finish this long post I would like to remind you what happened during the first 28 years of Football World Cup. Arch-favourites Brazil were once and again eliminated including the unforgetable Maracanazo in 1950. It was not until 1958 that Pelé took his team to the highest place. We don't remember the suffering of Brazil, though. We remember that they have been champions 5 times and that they are the best team of the world.

Thus, I only ask for patience.

French Top 14: a three-horse race?

6 French teams are playing both the French top 14 domestic competition and the european Heineken Cup: Stade Français, Biarritz, Bourgoin, Perpignan, Toulouse and Clermont.

Playing 26 regular games plus pay-offs plus (at least) 6 Heineken Cup games during a season will be hard for them all and makes of the French rugby season a long-distance race.

Provided this six teams were the best last year one would expect the final winner of the Top 14 shall arise from one of these, but the truth is that the favourites are mostly reduced to three: Stade Français, Biarritz and Toulouse. Can the results say something else? Let's see it.

After 4 games have been played at the Top 14 and 3 at the Heineken Cup, these teams look like this:

Stade Français: Current champions of the Top 14 and reached QF lasts year at the Heineken's Cup. They have a powerful line-up, specially at first five eighth. Their start of the season has been quite good and Stade Français is currently second at the Top 14 and leader of its pool at the Heineken Cup but away loses to Toulouse and Bristol (this one being a painful 17 vs 0 defeat) show a weakness that must be overcome if they are to be title contenders.

Toulouse: Byron Kelleher's side is the only undefeated team at the Top 14 after 4 rounds. In an impressive display of power, they defeated current champions Stade Français in convincing fashion and their only loss in this start of season was against Aron Mauger's Tigers. With players like Pelous, Elissalde or centre Kunavore they have the depth and the experience.

Biarritz: With a powerful scrum, they have had slow start at the Top 14 but are performing a good pool phase at the Heineken Cup, where they have defeated the Saracens and their only loss was last week to Glasgow. Their powerful line-up give them excellent chances in such a long competition.

Our opinion: Toulouse have an edge at this point of the competition that they will use to build into confidence and eventually become winners of the Top 14.

New Zealand Sevens: 2 out of 2

New Zealand Sevens did it again; after winning the starting meeting of the Season in Dubai, they won again with a perfect record of 6-0 in South Africa.

Is it going to be a Federer-like record? Last time New Zealand lost a match was back in April when they lost in Australia 24-17 to Fiji. They have a perfect 24-0 record (on grass, of course) since. Federer's current strike (on grass) is 48 consecutive games won.


I don't live in New Zealand (I could not live anywhere farther)

I am a huge All Blacks supporter as I discovered rugby when I saw their clear 29-9 defeat of France in 1987. I have followed them ever since.

It is hard to get "in touch" with what is going on there 20.000 Km away from Spain.

But I kind of feel happy for Graham Henry. I think the NZRU has been wise to reappoint him. World Cup isn't everything in rugby or it shouldn't be and he's a great coach and he has proved it.

I think that Robbie Deans deserved equally the chance to get the job (as many others) and it would be sad if he left the Crusaders.

But at some point you have to stop this four-year cycle of hiring a coach, believe you are invincible and come down to earth four years later thinking it was all the coach's fault. I don't know who will coach the All Blacks in 2011 (it could be Deans, you know) but at the moment, NZRU has sent a message of wisdom and we public ought to hear to it.

Everybody's talking about it

- What's ELV? The new rules.
- Which new rules? Those saying there won't be penalties anymore
- Ey! No penalties? What then? Well, there will be some, but it will all mostly be free kicks.
- Superb! Then Andrew Mehrtens will be the top scorer for the All Blacks for a long time! Hahahahah. It seems so, yes.
- Are there any other new rules? Well, backs shall stay at least five meters behind the scrum, passing the ball back from outside the 22 to inside the 22 won't permit a kick to touch.
- Won't it? Why not? What if you kick to touch? The lineout will be in line where the kick was taken.
- Pheew. Any more? Well some other changes like the ball in the lineout can be thrown backwards
- What is the aim of these changes? To allow more playtime and to increase the number of tries.
- Aha, I see. Will these laws apply to every rugby match? This year they will only be used during Super 14.
- Will the Crusaders win again? That I cannot say.

Grant Fox, amongst the bests ever

Whoever makes a list of the best ever players at first five eighths will consider Grant Fox as a contender to such title. Some argue he changed the game as Grant Fox was the first true goal-kicker, an important role in the late 80's when New Zealand obtained the first World Cup ever played.
He also introduced the today well-known technique of leaning the ball forward prior to the kick that everybody uses now from Jonny Wilkinson to Daniel Carter. In New Zealand he played for Auckland in a time when the word "professionalism"meant playing with 13 instead of 15 and so no Rebel Sport existed yet.

As an All Black he kept winning every test and match from 1985 until1988 (including five test matches in 1987 World Cup) when his All Black side drew against the trans-tasmanian neighbours. His first defeat as an AllBlack came as late as 1990 to a Wallaby team that was getting better day afterday (and would eventually become World Cup winners a year later). After 1991 World Cup defeat to Australia again, things were coming to and end. Grant Fox had to fight for starting off the bench and so he did and tried hard, playing in an impressive form during the1993 Lions series.

He was inducted into IRB Hall of Fame in 2005.

New Zealand win Dubai Sevens

New Zealand emerged victorious of a hard-fought final against last year IRB Sevens runner-up's Fiji.

Leading 21-0 at half-time, New Zealand had again to fight against a come-back of their rivals during the second half. New Zealand succeeded again to reach clear first spot undefeated, winning thus the Dubai Sevens tournament for the first time since 2002.

Semifinalists of the tournament were South Africa - who lost against the Kiwis 12-7 when a late try of the south africans was ruled out to a forward pass - and England, who lost 22-21 in another dramatic semifinal against Fiji.

«Argentina belongs in the South» IRB says

The dilemma about Argentina's integration in a major Nations' tournament has made a step forward towards its decission. The IRB has divised a plan to integrate Argentina into the Tri Nations around 2010. The plan means an increase in the tests the argentinians will play in 2008 and 2009.
The solution will not be easy. A look to the map sets Argentina closer to the three SANZAR nations than to the northern hemisphere ones. However, argentinian players massively play in France, Italy and the United Kingdom and that makes it easier to find a place in the calendar for the 6 Nations. Thus, most argentinian players have stated their preferences on playing against the european nations. There even were contacts between the UAR and the spanish city of Valencia to make that city the official place for the Pumas' european tests.

The IRB has, however been clear; Argentina's integrations shall be inside of the Tri-Nations. It will raise doubts on how to arrange Top 14 and Premiership calendars when tests matches are to be played.

Now some further questions arise: Will aregntinians still massively go to Europe to play? Will a argentinian franchise be created for the Super 14? That would be a very interesting point, I think.

Dubai Sevens: NZ, South Africa and Fiji advance easily

Frances's second half almost complete come back was the only cause of concern yesterday at Dubai. Luckily for the Kiwis, a late penalty by Emmanuel Etien did not go in.

Samoa, Fiji and South Africa also completed a sweep of their pool matches and the four are clear favourites for the first Sevens tournament of the season.

These, are the pairings for the QF:

Fiji vs Scotland
Samoa vs England
South Africa vs Kenya
New Zealand vs Argentina