Australia 6 v New Zealand 20 16th October 2011
Southern Hemisphere rugby once again less exciting than (England aside) Northern. New Zealand, my perhaps not very interesting prediction as eventual world cup winners, grind out a hard, frenetic, highly competitive but essentially attritional victory over Australia.Not to say they aren’t capable of running rugby. In Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Ma’a Nonu they have great strike runners. Dagg looked a different class and his break for Nonu’s try was fantastic, holding off Elsom, dashing through a gap and then somehow getting a perfect offload away as he was dumped into touch: world class stuff. When they spread it wide, they run from depth and string long, flat, hard passes that make them always look dangerous.
Australia lost it in the first fifteen minutes. Kicking off straight to touch wasn’t a great start and it led to the try. But when they finally got the ball they immediately kicked it away just when they needed to put a few phases together. They only got a little way back into the game when Piri Weepu botched a clearance straight to Digby Ioane and they set off for the New Zealand line, remembering that they have good runners themselves. Quade Cooper at 10 played a Freddie Michelak of a game – brilliant at times, culpable of terrible decisions or cras errors at others but he certainly grew into the game and he is a really exciting player to watch – as a neutral at least.
In the end, New Zealand were ferocious on the floor and in the rucks and they bossed Australia up front. Not that that has proved the hardest thing to do to Australian packs in the last few years. After half-time, the Australian management had obviously instructed them to stop kicking it quite as much and they began to make a bit more headway. Even so they kicked too much down Dagg’s throat and he was able to boom huge touchfinders up the pitch to put Australia back where they started.
I thought it might have been a mistake by Oz making so many substitutions, it disrupted their rhythm just as they were trying to find some against some excellent spoiling from McCaw and co. In particular, taking off the ever hardworking Stephen Moore at hooker backfired as his replacement, Tatafu Polota-Nau, popped up at every scrum thereafter. In the end, I suppose they did it to themselves in that opening 15 minutes, particularly with that terrible kicking game. They lost that contest in terms of the when and how: kicking at the wrong time, kicking badly and coming off second best under high balls again and again.
Can France beat New Zealand? Yes they can. They have a massive front five, an excellent backrow. Yachvilli is gifted rugby brain. The back three are explosive, their centres are big and imposing. Will they beat New Zealand? I don’t think so. But I look forward to finding out.
One personal highlight for me was the yellow card of my least favourite player in the world cup – Sonny Bill Williams (see earlier entries on New Zealand). Sporting a new (crap) side-parting, he led with a typically arrogant, dangerous arm tackling Cooper and I enjoyed seeming him go off five minutes after coming on. Never has the Half Man Half Biscuit line seemed more appropriate: “You’ve got a shit arm and that’s a bad tattoo!”