By Roger Childs
The rest of the world is catching up…. they are starting to play like us. David Hadfield, Sports Psychologist and Rugby Guru
Catching the All Blacks, but still some way to go
- 4 v France
- 3 v Australia
- 2 v South Africa
- 2 v Argentina
- 1 v Japan, England and Ireland
So the All Blacks (ABs) were unbeaten in 2013, however the gap is closing as the tight games against the three northern hemisphere teams showed. The final last gasp win against Ireland in test number 14 was an amazing effort, but demonstrated that in the years ahead international rugby will be very competitive.
The winning way
The French arrived in June and the All Blacks comfortably won the series 3-0. Back on home turf in November it would be a different proposition and Les Bleus could well have snatched a draw in the dying minutes.
The Four Nations competition saw the All Blacks play in the opening match in Sydney against a buoyant Australian team under new coach, Ewen McKenzie. They were keen to show that replacing Robbie (Dingo) Deans, who had suffered a humiliating series loss to the British and Irish Lions, would really make a difference.
The ABs never let the Aussies get into the game and won 47-29 scoring 6 tries to 2. It was one of the best performances of the year. The other two Trans-Tasman clashes were played in Auckland and Dunedin, and although they were closer, the home side always had the matches under control.
The Springboks, also with a new coach, were always going to be tough. The first test in New Zealand was ruined by the over-eager referee unnecessarily red-carding South African hooker Bismarck du Plessis. The ABs cruised to victory, setting up an exciting prospect when the two teams would met in South Africa to decide the Four Nations Championship.
The greatest test of all time?
In my opinion it was the best game of rugby that has been played in many years. Referee Nigel Owens
Rugby historians and journalists will look back on this test as being possibly the greatest of all time. This was the climax of the Rugby Championship and the South Africans needed to win with four tries and deny the All Blacks a bonus point.
Much was expected of the match and the Springboks had the home advantage, playing in their Johannesburg fortress of Ellis Park in front of over 60,000 partisan fans.
Both sides contributed to the spectacle and it was a titanic struggle between the two best teams on the planet. The Springboks scored their fourth try to take the lead midway through the second half, but in the end the All Blacks were the fitter team and clinched the victory.
A break down the left touchline, late in the second half by Savea, saw the winger set up Read with a perfect pass so he could score under the posts. At 38-27 this put the game beyond the reach of the tiring South Africans.
Player of the year: Keiran Read
It’s comforting to know that the IRB and the New Zealand Rugby Union agree with me! He was the standout player in a team which had many stars. Coming back from injury, Read took a couple of games to hit his stride, but after that there was no holding him.
Read has all the skills required in top level rugby, however his key value is the 100% effort he puts in, whether it is his
- ferocious tackling
- cleaning out the opposition at rucks
- crisp, accurate passing and skilful off-loads
- backing up
- hard running.
He is an uncompromising, team player who never gives up. His ‘never say die’ attitude was summed up in the last test when he chased after Irish fullback Kearney, who had intercepted a Dagg fumble and was heading for the try line.
Read ensured that the try was scored wide out, giving the goal kicker a difficult conversion. The kick in fact missed and this was crucial to the outcome of the game.
What makes a great team?
- Quality coaching: Steve Hansen has had plenty of experience at the top level from coaching Wales and being Graham Henry’s assistant coach. Along with Ian Foster, he has a clear vision of what he expects from the team: clear knowledge of their roles; quality possession; fast, accurate passing; ferocious spot tackling; consistent backing up; getting the ball wide quickly and speedy finishing.
- Leadership: the ABs are fortunate to have excellent captains in Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith and Keiran Read who know the game so well and lead from the front.
- Team work: the ABs are there to support one another and there are no prima donnas playing their own game.
- Star players: there are no weaknesses in the team and plenty of top quality players who perform consistently well, like the three Smiths, Nonu, Savea, Whitelock, Read of course and Retallick, to name but a few.
- A quality bench: the team has wonderful reserves who come on in the second half and make a great impact. Other international sides would be delighted to have in their first fifteen the likes of first five Beauden Barrett, flankers Sam Cane and Steven Luatua, hooker Dane Coles and winger Charles Piutau.
- A superb lineout: This has been a great year for efficiency in this part of the game. It was rare for the team not to have a clean take in the lineout and delivery to the half back off the top. The scrummaging still needs some work though.
- The will to win: finishing with a flourish.(See below)
Beating the Irish against the odds
The All Blacks have a penalty well inside their own half with just 18 seconds to go. Aaron to Ben Smith who takes the tackle. Smith to Cruden and on to Keiran Read and another ruck is formed. Smith to Cruden to Barrett and yet another ruck. Now in the Irish half, but not a lot of progress being made. Time is up on the clock, so the dream of an unbeaten test run in 2013 is surely gone as the All Blacks trail by 5 points. The Irish will get their first ever test win over New Zealand…
There is no way the All Blacks will kick, so it’s a question of keeping the ball in hand and cleaning out the rucks…
This is the 9th ruck and Smith clears once again out to Cruden, and on to Savea, who passes to Messam, who takes the tackle. The Franks brother again clean out the ruck and Smith passes to Nonu who makes ground inside the Irish 22. Smith clears quickly again out to Cruden, who puts the ball on to Coles, missing out Nonu. The replacement hooker unloads to the flying Crotty, who touches down wide out! The All Blacks have drawn level with a miracle try and a successful conversion would give them an unlikely win.
Cruden duly converted and the 2013 AB team entered the history books. It took a fantastic try to win the game. It took 97 seconds and involved
- 24 passes
- 11 rucks
- 13 players handling
- 6 clean outs by the Franks brothers.
This is what champion teams are made of.