Depth in NZ rugby

I was wondering what to write about Graham Henry's comments on the direction the game is going when I fetched the post of Totalflanker on this very subject.

While I basically agree with his point of view, there was something he said that's giving me headache after headache. He (wisely) adviced Graham Henry to look inside New Zealand Rugby for answers and solutions to the underperforming All Blacks instead of blaming the rest of the World.

But what in opinion of Totalflanker is a main problem is the lack of depth at lock, first five and openside flanker; When I read that, it totally stunned me.

I then said to myself there's no lack of depth at first five: Slade, Cruden, Brett, Bowden and even Witt are gifted players... the only problem is the World doesn't know of his existence as they have not been internationally tested. At lock we have been missing Chris Jack and Ali Williams, while Brad Thorn has been outstanding and two new guys are up there: Ross and Donnelly. We cannot forget Boric and Eaton, as well. They all need more tests, indeed, but there's no real lack of depth.

Openside flanker is another story and I do conceed there are not many openside flankers for Henry to choose from.

But then, I review what my thoughts about depth are and I say to myself that quality is undoubtedly there, but quality is not exactly depth.

Jake White was always proud of the increasing test experience of his squad. The Boks are, right now, the most experienced squad in the World in number of test caps, with over 600 caps. How many caps do Slade, Donnelly, Cruden, Boric, Eaton and Brett add up?

And then I say to myslef: What the All Blacks need is caps. Not more caps on senior players, but caps on the youngsters. Caps for Kaino, Thomson, de Malmanche, Donald, Masaga, Gear, Ross, Boric, Eaton, Slade, Vito, Cruden...

But how in the hell are you supposed to give caps to the All Blacks if they are neverallowed to lose? Do you choose experience to win a test or capping ahead of the next future?

And then I thought that being the All Blacks coach must be one of the most delicate tasks a person may have in NZ.

But that does not make Henry innocent of doing a "Peter de Villiers" about the penalty goals.

All Blacks contenders

So, 2009 Tri Nations is over. Now sights are put on the future. Who'll be contending for a position in 2 years time?

Let's see them all;
  • PROPS: You have Woodcock and Tialata as first-choice options, and then, young Owen Franks, John Afoa, Wyatt Crocket; Southlander Mackintosh is ready to resume his career while Newland would also be a good choice. Do expect Carl Hayman to be back in time for 2011
  • HOOKERS: Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu are going to be there. Aled de Malmanche seems to be just there, too. The future is of his. Are there any other options? Unfortunately Flynn's too injury prone to be counted on. I would rather go with Hika Elliot.
  • LOCKS: Henry's concern has been on the lock position for two long years. Last year, Brad Thorn and Ali Williams were miraculously perfect. This year, with Williams injured, Boric injured, young Isaac Ross has got to take the reins. I hope he won't be found guilty for the All Blacks woes with the Lineout. Brad Thorn and Ali Williams just have to be there. Next are Isaac Ross and Chris Jack (he's coming home). And then, Boric, Eaton and the new kid on the block, Tom Donnelly. I personally like Bekhuis as the Stag is doing a fine ANZ.
  • LOOSE FORWARDS: Richie McCaw is the only player you will always expect to be selected here. Not even great So'oailo has managed to secure a place. Read, Kaino and Thomson are next to the skipper. Then, you could be looking for So'oailo, Latimer, Messam and, perhaps we shall see him this very November wearing the Black Jersey, Victor Vito.
  • HALFBACKS: Although disappointing, Cowan has been consistently the best halfback of the international season. Leonard is better than Cowan, but he's just out of form. I would say that Andy Ellis is my preferred choice for halfback, he did shine with the Crusaders.
  • FIRST FIVE & SECOND FIVE: Daniel Carter is a certainty here, and so is Luke McAlister. Stephen Donald will always be a backup, but I would like to see youngsters Cruden and Slade. Add Nonu also here and, more than anything I would love to see also Nick Evans here.
  • CENTRE: Kahui, Toeava, Smith and Laulala.
  • WINGS: A big problem of late. Sivivatu's doing well, more or less, when he's fine. But Rokocoko seems to be struggling and neither Gear nor Masaga take their chances to claim a clearly open position. Wulf could be there, and even Doug Howlet could be filling a position here.
  • FULLBACK: Mils Muliaina and Cory Jane are first and second choice. Israel Dagg is a promising third choice. Some others could be a fill-in fullback: Slade, Toeava and even Rudy Wulf.

Robbie Deans' credit is over

Just look here.

Robbie Deans may or may not be guilty of the poor 2009 performances by the Wallabies, but he's run out of credit.

Now the Wallabies must deliver or his time as Australia's Head Coach shall be over.

At the other shore of the Tasman Sea, Henry's head stands firmly, as we all know nothing is going to remove "Ted" from his position until 2011. But then, NZ hopes may be fading, after a three consecutive losses to SA and another loss to France.

Rugby is nowadays a 4-year sport and we are right in the middle of this 4-year race with the All Blacks losing ground to first-placed Springboks and the Wallabies asking themselves if they have what it gets to go the full distance.

Argentina in the mix

So, it is official, Argentina has been invited to join the SANZAR to expand the Tri Nations into what would be the Four Nations.

I say it's good news for Argentina, and it's good for the Southern Hemisphere. Argentina has a lot to offer to rugby and ... wouldn't it be better anyway to switch from three games against the same two opponents to 2 games against 3 opponents?

Long have most of us been waiting for this to happen. And 2012 it's not by any means an early date, I daresay. But it will be good for everyone.

It was exciting, but not good

The game was full of excitement. The All Blacks finally found themselves a way to demolish the Springboks defense in open play... but it was only too late.

Don't be mistaken, it was the fitness factor. SA players just couldn't find their breath for the last 15 minutes. And when they were so severely punished, they played with intelligence. Set pieces to set pieces. Did you pay attention on to how annoyed was McCaw when the referee didn't let the play go on? He was on the edge of a penalty for complaining. During the dying moments, Carter's foot made the difference, but in the end, it was not enough.

The first 65 minutes, though, we saw a repetition of what happened in SA. Green waves barely contained by the All Blacks and error after error from NZ. I repeat, it's not skill, it's physicality. Unlike the Wallabies last week, the All Blacks couldn't match the Springboks physically. And it made the difference.

The Springboks are the best team in the World. Can anyone be World Champions, win the Tri Nations, be ranked number 1 and not be the best team in the World?

PdV is getting annoying

"People don't want to see other teams being successful. That is my biggest problem at the moment,"
-Springbok coach Peter de Villiers

So, is it Peter de Villiers against the whole rugby world who don't want South Africa to be on the top?

No, Mr. de Villiers, that is not your biggest problem at the moment. Your biggest problem at the moment is your first row.

Air New Zealand Cup Question

Where in NZ can you hear bagpipes during a rugby match, and even hear a famous european national anthem?

Bonus question: which anthem is it?

Air New Zealand Cup

2009 may well be the year of the Air New Zealand Cup.

In 2007, the World Cup made us even forget than for the first time a SA side won the Super 14.
In 2008, the heat was so intense in the ELVs and the re-built wallabies, boks and all blacks that the 3N was everything one could think of.

2009, on the contrary, has been so pleasant for SA, that everybody is turning their attention to the domestic competitions.

In New Zealand, particularly, that and the fact that at the end of the competition 4 unions will be dismissed from the "first division" of provincial rugby have drawn the hearts of the rugby fans, all wishing to know, all wishing to see.

I daresay that the Canterbury-Wellington game where the Ranfurly Shield was in dispute has had as many fans (in NZ) as the test in Sydney the week before. Besides, young guns like Aaron Cruden (Manawatu), Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay) and the amazing league convert Michael Witt (Otago) keep us dreaming of future days of glory for the men who were the black.

At the moment, Canterbury, an amazing Bay Of Plenty and Southland are in the top of the competition. Big names Wellington, Otago and Auckland fare in the middle of the table whereas Waikato are slightly behind. None of the big 5 shall worry about being cut. They are out of the equation.

That is pretty unfair, even more unfair if one thinks that, from 2011 on, the promotion/relegation system will be based only in the table points.

But except for Counties Manukau, who are struggling with a number of injuries, and perhaps North Harbour (yes, North Harbour, no less) the rest is in a fierce competition to avoid the cut. Taranaki, Manawatu, Hawke's Bay... they seem all doom to stay. Even mor safe is the future for Southland and Bay of Plenty.

And the future could be gloomingly dark for Northland and, so sad but so true, Tasman. Tasman could be the biggest victim of the whole system. Last year their performance was outstanding. This year, they are again in the hunt... But their sin is being a small union... And that's equivalent to being spanish in a race against an ethiopian athlete; if she falls, you will be disqualified.Tasman is in danger of being disqualified.

By the way, if you are wondering what about the winner, I'll tell you it's less important, but if you want to know, Canterbury shall win again this year.

About coaches

Springboks, Wallabies and All Blacks.
That is to say: PdV, dingo Deans and "Ted".

This is the alpha and the omega of the southern hemisphere as we know it (Argentina, where art thou, Argentina?).

For the last year and a half, no coach in the world (except perhaps Manolo Preciado but he's got nothing to do with this sport nor with this hemisphere) has accumulated more detractors than Peter de Villiers. I have read it in almost any blog, in almost any newspaper; that PdV is a puppet, an outspoken jester, that he'd better sober up... Now, all of a sudden, he's made a seemingly unvincible team and no one is paying due tribute to him; they all now speak of the Springboks, of du Preez, of Steyn...

Dingo Deans is perhaps the most appreciated coach in the world. The most succesful coach in Super Rugby history has exactly had one year and 4 games before the first critics have arisen. They respect him; they don't dare to criticise anything other than he being stuck to certain players. But the coach who had arrived in Australia to make a champion team can be running out of time. What would be his fate if the Wallabies don't win a single game in 2009's Tri Nations?

"Ted" is the man under whom the All Blacks have had the best period in their history and the worst result in a World Cup. For 42 games the All Blacks seemed all but invincible and people said New Zealand would win the 2007 World Cup even with the second best 15. 2 years after the disaster of a loss (a loss is always a disaster, has always been a disaster and will always be a disaster in New Zealand) to France, the team is trailing behind pace-makers Springboks and still, there's no talking in New Zealand of his dismissal.

Under these circumstances, my question is:

What is in a coach? What difference does a coach make?

I'll tell you a few things:
  1. being a good coach does not guarantee taking good decissions.
  2. taking good decissions does not guarantee helping your team.
  3. helping your team does not guarantee your team a win.

On the other hand, there are times when being a bad coach can't prevent your team win:

  1. The coach does not kick, so he can't make an error on the field
  2. The coach does not catch high balls, so he can't make an error on the field
  3. The coach does not tackle, so he can't make an error on the field.

Some teams, like the 2009 Springboks could play with Pienaar at loosehead and Mtawarira at fullback and still be winning.

So, ease it on the coaches, they have not the almighty power everybody likes to think they have. Take Deans, take de Villiers, take Henry. Not the worst coaches in the world by any means.