All Blacks vs Italy

I loved watching the All Blacks vs Italy game over an early breakfast yesterday before church.  I loved the Italian passion and playing in Rome must be a wonderful experience given that city’s place in the history of the world.  I felt that the Italians competed cleverly all through the first half leaving a close and fair half-time score with the All Blacks just ahead.  Clearly the Italians had identified that a rushing defense would stop the All Blacks attacking game.  But such passion has to be sustained to beat the All Blacks and that never really looked likely and the second half proved it.  The 42/10 result fairly reflected the difference between the two teams – the game is 80 minutes long and the last 20 minutes are usually the most telling when the All Blacks play.
What has been startling has been the response of some New Zealand media to the game.  TVNZ were hugely disappointing in their reporting of the game in the 6pm news slot.  Their interpretation was that the All Blacks performed under par!  Really?  It seems that there is an expectation that every attack and set piece should yield a significant result.  I find this attitude and expectation staggering.  In a weekend when the Samoans defeated Wales (the six nations champions) and when other leading teams like Australia, France and South Africa had comparatively modest wins, it baffles me that NZ media are claiming that the All Blacks were sub-par.
Here are a few points I want to offer in response:
1. the All Blacks won – and won well.  It is an 80 minute game and the All Blacks played a great 80 minute game wearing down the spirited and respectable opposition.
2. the All Blacks adapted their game as a response to the excellent Italian preparation and execution of their game plan in the first half.  The Italians were not able to adapt their game and paid the price.
3. the All Blacks never looked like being beaten.  Indeed they were masterful winners.
4. only one person from the starting lineup against Scotland last week was in the starting line-up against the Italians.  How many teams could boast that kind of depth.  If it took some time for this new configuration to find their feet, so what, the result was indicative of the real capacity of the team.
5. the game was hugely entertaining.  The penalty count was low, the rugby was free-flowing, the tries were scintillating, and some players were simply outstanding – Conrad Smith, Cory Jane and Kieran Read were a class apart.  A sustained very good team effort allowed them to shine.
6. Not every thing worked, but there was inventiveness, skillful running rugby, excellent and consistent defence, and flair and imagination.  What more can we ask of a touring team that is intent on strengthening its capacity?  Just one more thing – a handsome win.  And that was what we got!
TVNZ and other media, we have much to celebrate and very little to bemoan!

RWC – Rugby World Cup

It has started and the opening evening was thrilling.  I was moved by the spectacular opening ceremony – the karanga (call of welcome by the Maori woman) matched with the fantastic imagery of the fish-hook drawing people to her was a work of genius. The music was powerful and made wonderful use of the Maori and Pacific rhythms of our country – I particularly enjoyed Tiki Taane’s song.
I loved the wide use of the city of Auckland rather than just running the show in Eden Park.  The images of the Waitemata Harbour glowing in the vibrant colours of the fireworks is the lasting image for me.  Fantastic – what a brilliant show case for New Zealand’s most significant event on the world stage.
The image is from the web, rugby world

Crusaders win overnight

It was well worth getting up early to watch the Canterbury Crusaders rugby team play the Cape Stormers in South Africa.  I did tape the game but was up at 6am to watch the game before my church activities at 8.30am.

The fact that the team hasn’t been able to play a game in Christchurch because of the earthquake damage made this year’s season look like being too big – but now they are set to play the Queensland Reds in Brisbane in next weekend’s final – yet another away game.

Who knows whether they will prevail then but they have climbed a very steep mountain and the summit is in sight.

It is hard to pick one or two outstanding players this season – almost everyone in the team has stood up in different ways at different times – but surely Zac Guildford has done enough to earn a starting position for the NZ All Blacks World Cup team.  His combination of skills – speed in attack, quality of defence, and his hunger to get involved in the action whenever possible, is in my mind a few rungs ahead of his competitors for the jersey.

I am glad not to be a selector, but the following Crusaders would be in my starting All Black team: Guildford, Ritchie McCaw, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Andy Ellis, Dan Carter, and Sonny Bill Williams.  I would have Brad Thorn, Matt Todd, Sean Maitland and possibly Wyatt Crockett and Kahn Fotuali’i in the reserves.  The squad might also have room for Corey Flynn.  That is 15 of the 30 strong squad.  What a team!  And wouldn’t be great if Israel Dagg made it back from injury as well.