Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Four Nations Fixtures Released, Reveal Shockingly Conservative Approach

February 23, 2009

Today the RFL released details fo the upcoming Four Nations dates and venues, and there’s more than a few surprises involved, none of them particularly nice:

24/25 October:

England v France Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster

Australia v New Zealand The Stoop, London

1/2 November:

England v Australia JJB Stadium, Wigan

France v New Zealand TBC, France

8/9 November:

England v New Zealand Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield

France v Australia TBC, France

14 November:

Final Elland Road, Leeds

That first weekend in particular is shockingly revealing of low confidence in the drawing power of the Four Nations, not to mention reeking of a money-saving mindset. I understand that there’s a credit crunch going on and that everybody wants to keep the extra pennies, but it really creats an image problem when what is supposed to be the premier event on the Rugby League international calendar opens up in stadiums with just over 27,000 capacity between them. On the plus side I would imagine that the Stoop would sell out, which in another respect is disappointing as the Kangaroos and Kiwis sold out a bigger ground in Loftus Road only a few years ago and I suspect that they could do it again. I also understand the logic of choosing the Keepmoat for the France game (the crowd for the Wales game last year was a pleasant surprise) but really they should be aiming for a higher crowd. Considering the talk in the lead up to the World Cup of going to Wembley for a game against Australia, the JJB Stadium can’t help be be a disappointment.

More than anything else, it seems to show that the RFL don’t have much confidence in England’s ability as a draw, and after the World Cup why would they? France haven’t exactly looked hot in the last year either, and there seems to be a genuine fear that this will be a damage limitation exercise. This should be a premier event for Rugby League in this country, yet people seem to be fearing that it turns into a disaster. Unfortunately, with that sort of mindset it probably will turn into a disaster. I’m really hoping now that England reach the Final at Elland Rd and put in at the very least a credible performance, because it’s hard to see the RFL being willing to expand the potential exposure they could get if England are going to just crap on the stage again.


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Worth seeing again: The Haka

November 25, 2008

There was something about this which made me think that the game could turn out quite good.

The Kangaroos advancing on the Kiwis, and the Kiwis in turn upping their game, the way this seemed to pump up the crowd; as pre-match entertainment goes, it damn well did its job.

Kiwi Kings Show The World How It’s Done

November 23, 2008

Well, I’ll admit I didn’t see that one coming.

In a World Cup final where the majority of the 50,599 in attendance were expecting to see the coronation of what had been described in the build-up as one of the greatest Australia sides ever, instead we witnessed New Zealand pull off one of the most spectacular pieces of sporting regicide ever seen as they upset the odds to score an ultimately convincing 34-20 victory. The Kiwis outfought the Kangaroos, and their defensive pressure caused a surprisingly brittle Australia side into mistakes in key positions. Perhaps most surprisingly of all though, New Zealand were by far and away the more disciplined side, as the wrestling interfering methods pioneered in the NRL were pushed beyond their limits in an attempt to stop the momentum of the New Zealand side. Australia tried to find a way to overcome the Kiwi menace but in doing so often just left opportunities which New Zealand gleefully exploited

In retrospect, more attention should have been paid to the Kiwis’ recent record in finals. Of course it’s well known that they beat the Kangaroos in the 2005 Tri-Nations final, but it’s also overlooked that they only lost in golden point extra time in the final a year later, having scored more tries in regulation time (alas, conceding more penalties as well). Sure, they’ve underperformed in one-off tests and test series over the last three years, but I think that yesterday’s performance shows how little that really matters. In the most important game of their lives, the Kiwis stepped up to levels hitherto not seen from them and vanquished their heavily favoured foes with a display of guts, determination, intelligence and skill that opened up weaknesses in the Kangaroos not seen in quite some time.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about this game without mentioning a key turning point in the game; namely, the penalty try that took New Zealand two scores clear with ten minutes remaining. I think it’s a small shame that this clouds the result somewhat and some Kangaroos have already been complaining, but I think they’re missing the point, which is that Australia were comprehensively outplayed down the stretch, which is something we have rarely ever seen in the last few decades and certainly not in big games (even in the Tri-Nations defeat they were just horrible for the whole game). Personally, I didn’t think that it was a penalty try, but it was a definite penalty and probably should have seen Joel Monaghan dismissed for the remaining minutes of the match (if not a sending off it should have been a sin-binning, which would effectively be the same thing with less than ten minutes to play). Who’s to say that even if it was just given as a penalty that New Zealand wouldn’t have scored a more conventional try? Sure, the Kiwis had the majority of the luck, but considering that Australia had everything go their way up until this point, maybe it’s just things balancing out.

Jeremy Smith was absolutely immense, and his try was a just reward

Jeremy Smith was absolutely immense, and his try was a just reward

For all the talking about the refereeing, it can’t really detract from the fact that the Kiwis were definitely the better side. They were dominant in the forwards and my personal Man of the Match was Jeremy Smith, who was demonic in defence, a juggernaut in attack, and his ankle tap on Johnathan Thurston is one of the key moments being overlooked in the wake of the penalty try. On top of that, the Kiwis finally appear to have brains again, as Nathan Fien and Benji Marshall, err, marshalled (sorry) the Kiwi forwards around the field and their kicking game helped to keep Billy Slater from causing too much damage on kick returns (although he did threaten on occasions). Thomas Leuluai and Isaac Luke between them also helped to control the ruck which was a large factor in their success. Perhaps most importantly though, the Kiwi forwards won the collision more often than not, and their ability to drive and get quick play-the-balls negated the Australian’s technical wrestling style. Nathan Cayless, Adam Blair and the aforementioned Smith were all outstanding in taking the fight to the Kangaroos.

As for Australia, whilst there’s no denying that they underperformed you can hardly say that they handed victory on a plate to New Zealand. Their forwards tried hard, particularly Petro Civoniceva, and their backs looked threatening on the few occasions that they were allowed to get the ball wide by the Kiwis (as was shown by their third try, which was one of the greatest set of tackles I have ever seen). Darren Lockyer received the official Man of the Match award which struck me as odd, but he was valiant in defeat, scoring a first-half brace and trying to put pressure on the Kiwis in the second half with his passing and well measured kicking game. What was really noticeable about the ‘roos performance though was how unnoticeable the threequarters were. A back-line that has dominated the tournament to this point was shut down. Apart from his try Greg Inglis was barely seen (along with Israel Folau) and Joel Monaghan’s main contribution was conceding the penalty try. David Williams took his try nicely, but in the end the Kiwis were able to starve the Australian three-quarters of attacking ball, and thus render them impotent.

A mixed day for Billy Slater and Darren Lockyer

A mixed day for Billy Slater and Darren Lockyer

In the end, the Australian performance was summed up fairly well by the showing of Billy Slater. Named as the RLIF World Player of the Year earlier in the week, he started off like a bullet, and it was his searing break that set up Darren Lockyer and his cut-out pass that freed David Williams. Yet as the game wore on New Zealand started to get the measure of him and didn’t let him get his way. Both Jeremy Smith and Lance Hohaia gave him the speedbump treatment in scoring their tries, and of course he had one of the most high-profile brain explosions in Rugby League history when his inside speculator pass gifted Benji Marshall with his try. Slater, like the Kangaroos, looked threatening at many points during the match, but undermined it with mistakes at key moments. His final pass into touch, looking to free Monaghan for a try, seemed indicative of a player trying too hard.

So overall, the best team in the tournament lost, but the best side in the final won. It shows that Australia aren’t the superhuman behemoths that they are sometimes portrayed as, and that good coaching and preparation can be a massive factor in improvement. Most of all though, it’s the best possible result for the tournament and for international Rugby League; just because Australia are the best side in the world, it doesn’t mean that no side can aspire to become better than them. International Rugby League should no longer be seen as a one horse race, and dare I say it the Kangaroos will come back stronger from this defeat. What we need for international Rugby League to be seen as interesting is competition, and in a tournament littered with close, intense games and underdogs exceeding  expectations, we got the most fitting and beneficial finale possible. Roll on 2013!

LIVE: The World Cup Final

November 22, 2008

So here it is. Afte five weeks of League action, we’re left with the two best sides remaining. New Zealand have improved since the opening game, but in that match they were dominated by Australia. The Kangaroos have been dominant through the whole thing, but Ricky Stuart has questioned the level of their preparation; apparently he thinks demolishing Papua New Guinea and Fiji might not be good enough. We’ll see. The teams:

Australia: Billy Slater, Joel Monaghan, Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, David Williams, Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston, Petero Civoniceva, Cameron Smith, Brent Kite, Glenn Stewart, Anthony Laffranchi, Paul Gallen.

Interchange: 14. Karmichael Hunt, 15. Craig Fitzgibbon, 16. Anthony Tupou, 17. Anthony Watmough.

New Zealand: Lance Hohaia, Sam Perrett, Simon Mannering, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Benji Marshall, Nathan Fien, Nathan Cayless (c), Thomas Leuluai, Adam Blair, David Fa’alogo, Bronson Harrison, Jeremy Smith.

Interchange: Issac Luke, Greg Eastwood, Sam Rapira, Sika Manu.

Fun fact: Australia have conceded a mere 16 points in the four games so far, scoring a none-too-shabby 180 in the process. The Kiwis have their work cut out for them.

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LIVE: England vs New Zealand

November 15, 2008

Press F5 or refresh to get an up-to-date page.

A feeling of deja vu here… last week’s game was simultaneously closer than the scoreline suggests and yet also more one-sided than the scoreline suggests. If England don’t completely suck for the second half today, we could have quite a game on our hands. The teams:

England: Paul Wellens; Ade Gardner, Martin Gleeson, Keith Senior, Lee Smith; Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow; Jamie Peacock (c), James Roby, James Graham (c); Gareth Ellis, Ben Westwood, Rob Purdham.

Interchange: Leon Pryce, Adrian Morley, Mickey Higham, Jon Wilkin

New Zealand: Lance Hohaia; Sam Perrett, Simon Mannering, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei; Benji Marshall, Nathan Fien; Nathan Cayless (c), Thomas Leuluai,  Adam Blair; Sika Manu, David Fa’alogo, Jeremy Smith.

Interchange: Issac Luke, Greg Eastwood, Bronson Harrison, Sam Rapira.

Of course, England haven’t really done much to suggest that they can make the step up, but blind hope’s a powerful thing, isn’t it? Stil, at the very least it’s a good sign that England will at last be operating with two hookers. I still see the Kiwis sneaking it.

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LIVE: England vs New Zealand

November 8, 2008

Okay, I’m still up… just. Now we get what is both the biggest game of the round and yet also one of the most meaningless, since we know that both these teams will probably be back to tango again next week. It’sa  curious flaw in the scheduling which seems rather obviously avoidable, but oh well. Here are the teams:

England: Wellens, Calderwood, Sykes, Senior, Smith, Gleeson, Burrow, Morley, Higham, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ellis, Purdham.

Replacements: Sinfield, Westwood, Hock, Langley.

New Zealand: Hohaia, Nightingale, Matai, Ropati, Vatuvei, Marshall, Leuluai, Blair, Fien, Tuimavave, Mannering, Fa’alogo, Smith.

Replacements: Luke, Eastwood, Kidwell, Harrison.

Very odd decisions for England. On the one hand, Purdham should have been in the seventeen from the start, but on the other playing Martin Gleeson instead of McGuire makes me wonder if Tony Smith is trying to build up a sense of overconfidence in New Zealand ahead of next week.

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LIVE: New Zealand vs Papua New Guinea

November 1, 2008

Okay, if this seems a little more haphazard than usual it’s because it is. I’ve had almost no sleep and I’m now struggling to concentrate on the screen. The teams:

New Zealand: Lance Hohaia, Sam Perrett, Krisnan Inu, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Benji Marshall, Thomas Leuluai, Nathan Cayless (c), Nathan Fien, Adam Blair, Simon Mannering, Setaimata Sa, Jeremy Smith.

Interchange: Issac Luke, Greg Eastwood, Sam Rapira, David Fa’alogo.

Papua New Guinea: John Wilshere (c), George Kepa, Jesse Joe Parker, Tu’u Maori, David Moore, Stanley Gene, Keith Peters, Makali Aizue, Paul Aiton, Trevor Exton, Neville Costigan, James Nightingale, Rod Griffin.

Interchange: Rodney Pora, George Moni, Jason Chan, Charlie Wabo.

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Teamsheets: Australia vs England

October 29, 2008

Here it is. The big one. The teams:

Australia: Billy Slater; Joel Monaghan, Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Brent Tate; Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston; Petero Civoniceva, Cameron Smith, Steve Price; Glenn Stewart, Anthony Laffranchi; Paul Gallen.

Interchange: Brent Kite, Josh Perry, Anthony Tupou, Karmichael Hunt.

England: Paul Wellens; Ade Gardner, Martin Gleeson, Keith Senior, Mark Calderwood; Leon Pryce, Rob Burrow; Jamie Peacock, James Roby, James Graham; Gareth Hock, Gareth Ellis; Kevin Sinfield.

Interchange: Danny McGuire, Adrain Morley, Maurie Fa’asavalu, J Wilkin.

Brief Thoughts:

  • These two sides are almost exactly the same as the teams they both fielded last weekend. If England play like they did against Papua New Guinea, they will suffer the same (if not worse) fate as the Kiwis.
  • New Zealand completely failed to test out the new Kangaroos back row. England need to be punchier down the middle and more dynamic running wide. All the English props had good games last weekend but the back-row seemed to go AWOL.
  • Australia will also be looking to spread the ball wide and put up the high bombs. Folau in particular will be looking to have some fun. Keith Senior completely shut down Folau during the World Club Challenge but if he plays like he did last weekend then Folau mught just end up getting his revenge.
  • The obvious big change for England is Lee Smith’s enforced absence. It’s a shame because he was clearly coming to form. Mark Calderwood hasn’t played up to a haigh enough level for the last few seasons, although he had been coming good for Wigan towards the end of the season. Thurston and Lockyer will almost certainly target him.
  • Again, why no Purdham, Tony Smith?
  • The front-row battle could be absolutlely awesome and go a long way to deciding this game. England have the younger set, with Roby and Graham still establishing themselves as international class, and they are backed up by two older heads in Morley and Peacock. All of these players had good games at the weekend. Civoniceva and Price are the two most senior figures in this Kiwi side, and they and Cameron Smith will no doubt be looking to teach the whippersnappers a lesson.
  • This might be Leon Pryce’s last chance to establish himself as the main stand-off. Danny McGuire has been playing well whilst Pryce has not.

If England play like they did against the Kumuls and Australia play like they did against the Kiwis, then this game won’t be pretty. However, it strikes me as unlikely that Tony Smith will let them play like that again, even if he hasn’ made the obvious personnel changes. Australia will obviously have confidence in the quality of their backline and it is imperative that England match the intensity both up front and out-wide (where they seemed to be lacking defensively against PNG). If England are able to raise a few levels and handle the Aussie backs then it should be very, very interesting…

Aftermath: Australia vs New Zealand

October 27, 2008

Hmmm.

Okay, Australia were good. They were clearly better than New Zealand. But the fawning over them seems to be failing to take into account one crucial factor – New Zealand were pants. I said in my preview that they needed direction but they completely failed to get it from Benji Marshall and Thomas Leuluai. Australia were merely extremely efficient, but that was all they needed to be to tear apart the Kiwis.

The ‘roos obviously had many positives to take from this game. They won handsomely against the side who have been their nearest challengers in the past few seasons, and they did so in a dominating fashion. The much vanted centre pairing of Israel Folau and Greg Inglis both had good games and fended off nearly every attempted tackle on them, and Folau finished with two tries. In particular they were always threatening down the flanks and were very good at switching play from one side to the other. They threatened to look awesome, but merely came across as really good. In particular they had a habit of dropping the ball as they looked to score, something that will probably be eliminated from their game as they develop cohesion. Also, they will not be happy that the two times the Kiwis really pressured them, it resulted in a walk-in try and a wrongly-disallowed try. ‘Efficient’ is the word to describe their performance; they weren’t flawless by any means, but they did more than enough to win and can take heart from their performance.

This is more than the Kiwis can take. For a side who have a reputation as brutal hitters, there was something lacking in the forward play of New Zealand. They gave away too many penalties and tried too many cheap shots. Even so, the Aussies completely dominated them in the tackle and the Kiwis barely had any momentum all night. Leuluai and Marshall were fairly anonymous, which was really frustrating because the few times Marshall took on the ‘roos on their try-line coincided with the few times the Kiwis looked threatening. They really need to buck up their ideas, and fast. They are lucky they didn’t play Papua New Guinea this weekend, because the Kumuls looked far more impressive in defeat than the Kiwis did. Adrain Lam will seriously be thinking about beating them next Saturday, and if the Kiwis play like that again then it’s a very real possibility.

As a final whine, what the hell was the video ref playing at disallowing Matai’s try at the end? Slide tackles from the full-back are dangerous at the best of times, never mind the fact that it clearly stripped the ball from Matai as he was scoring. Granted, it didn’t affect the result, and the try would have been more than the Kiwis deserved, but it sets a worrying prescedent as there is ample room for one of these challenges to cause serious harm. For the video referee to claim that the foot was not involved in Matai knocking the ball on was also just plain stupid. I don’t like to bag on refs, but it was obvious to anyone with basic vision that the foot knocked out the ball. It was the most questionable thing to come out of a night which didn’t really answer all that much.

LIVE: Australia vs New Zealand

October 26, 2008

note: please keep refreshing this page every so often, using the button at the top of your browser, or by pressing F5 [too late now].

Hmmm, weetabix. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the opening ceremony game between two of the favourites for the title. I’m really looking forward to this, as I think the Kiwis should be over that little spell of mediocrity they had last year.

Teams:

Australia (from): Billy Slater, Joel Monaghan, Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Brent Tate, Darren Lockyer (captain), Jonathan Thurston, Petero Civoniceva, Cameron Smith, Steve Price, Glenn Stewart, Anthony Laffranchi, Paul Gallen.

Replacements: Brent Kite, Josh Perry, Anthony Tupou, Kurt Gidley.

New Zealand: Lance Hohaia, Sam Perrett, Steve Matai, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Benji Marshall, Thomas Leuluai, Nathan Cayless (captain), Nathan Fien, Adam Blair, Simon Mannering, Sika Manu, Jeremy Smith.

Replacements: Dene Halatau, Greg Eastwood, Setaimata Sa, Sam Rapira.

Of course, we have the opening ceremony to navigate through first. *sigh*

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