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A Game Of Two Halves

A Game Of Two Halves

A Game Of Two Halves

ABSvFRA_2017_primary
1) What happened to the 80 minute All Blacks? 
 
Another Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde performance. Dr Jekyll was very good, Mr Hyde was shabby…although it’s interesting to note that while we in New Zealand are getting a bit twisted about the second half in Paris, much of the coverage in the Northern Hemisphere has been about how good they were in the first.
 
But still, it is frustrating for many fans and something that’s become a recurring theme this year.
 
There are some obvious contributing factors.
Two years ago in the Rugby World Cup final, the All Blacks were able to bring Sonny Bill Williams, Beauden Barrett, Keven Mealamu and Charlie Faumuina off the bench and they all impacted on the game. There were late call-ups too for Ben Franks, Tawera Kerr Barlow, Sam Cane and Victor Vito.
 
Of those players, three are now starters, three have gone off shore, another is going soon, and one has retired.
Right now the All Blacks do not have players of that calibre coming into the game in the second half.
Rebuilding that depth is a big part of what the second half of 2017 is all about.    
 
Only four players who started the 2015 final were in the run on 15 in Paris, and two of them, Kieran Read and Dane Coles left the field injured.
 
So the proven depth in the quad isn’t there right now, and neither is the depth of leadership, which is also becoming a factor. It should improve with miles on the clock and the likes of Ben Smith and Brodie Retallick returning.
 
Logic, and past history tells us that the team will in the long run, be better off for what has happened this year, but it’s not a certainty.
The coaching staff are going to have to earn their keep to make sure the new players learn from the things that are stunting their performance right now, especially the errors in judgement.    
 
2) But was it all bad?
 
 Kane Hames did a job on Slimani, the loosehead who is something of a rock star in the French game, Beauden Barrett nailed six out of six  Sam Cane and Sam Whitelock outmuscled their French opponents, Waisake Naholo had one of his best games yet in a black jersey and Aaron Smith, in the first half at least, showed what a difference he makes to the All Black game.
And right up until he did that league thing, Sonny Bill Williams was owning the midfield. 
 
3) So what about the SBW thing?
 
Brain fart, I think you’d call it. Forgot what game he was playing? It might have cost them the game on another day but it didn’t and it won’t happen again. Certainly it warranted a yellow card, but the penalty try was harsh, although justifiable under current interpretation of the law. And hey, it gave the headline writers something nice and juicy to bait the hooks with as they went fishing on Sunday morning. 
 
4) If Kieran Read is out, who is captain against Scotland? 
 
I’d give it to big Sam. I know they’re trying to instil leadership qualities in Beauden Barrett, but he just doesn’t look all that comfortable in the role. Whitelock did a great job with the Crusaders, is unflappable, and able to think clearly in a crisis. 
 
5) So what about the other matches?
 
Ireland were the standout, making the Springboks look second rate. They opened them up with some beautifully worked backline moves but it was the way they dominated the Springbok pack that would have had the Bok fans crying into their Klip and Cokes. The Aussies got opened up a few times by the Wales backs but got the job done, and while England were good enough to beat Argentina, they were bad enough to send Eddie Jones into a full on rage up in the coaches box. Tick, tick, tick.  
 
6) And this weekend?
 
The All Blacks will beat Scotland, but it would do them and their fans a lot of good to go the full distance. The big one is Twickenham, and I reckon the Aussies are a good chance. Prepare for lots and lots and lots of shots of the coaches.
 
7) How do we rate the year for the Maori All Blacks? 
 
By their own standards two out of three ain’t great. To be fair their chances of beating the Lions were not helped by the deals done to accommodate the wishes of the All Blacks, and they had to introduce not just a new coach but a bunch of new players late in the year.
Word is the effects of playing on Astroturf in Canada left them pretty stiff and sore ahead of their trip across the Atlantic and it showed with a rather under par effort in Bordeaux.
The defence was awful at time, with Jackson Garden Bachop guilty of two glaring misses. Still, they attracted two big crowds, and the trip was meaningful for both them and those who hosted them.
 
8) Who’s going to win the World Cup bid for 2023?
 
It looks like South Africa, smells like South Africa, tastes like South Africa so it must be South Africa right?
 
And it is probably their turn.
 
But wait….word out of the UK is that lobbying has reached the halls of politics, and that the UK Government is trying to persuade the Home Unions to back Ireland. This ain’t so cut and dried as it might sound. 
 
9) Can 2017 end fast enough for Dane Coles?
Four months out at one end of the year, 6 at the other. He doesn’t deserve such rotten luck and the only hope is that it tacks some extra miles on his career clock.
 
10) And how high is the injury count in international rugby right now? 
 
It’s an epidemic, with France the worst effect with about 16 players taken out of calculations (not all of them first choice players, let’s get that bit straight).
The All Blacks have lost four fifths of their tight five, and no-one will be at full strength for the any test over the rest of November.
And right on cue, the English premier clubs are revealing their plan to extend their season to ten months.