the perfect weekend trilogy

15 09 2008

Man, that was the best weekend of sport I can remember since, well, I can’t recall. I probably felt this good after the Celtics won the NBA title but this was better, these were games won by my teams, teams I’ve followed for all my life or in the Warriors case since they started 14 or so years ago. This was a triple whammy, a grand trilogy of results and when the final result occurred last night around 8 pm, you could have powered a city off my smile.

So where did it all begin?

In a seemingly modest fashion on Friday night with the NPC game between Auckland and Bay of Plenty. In past years this game wouldn’t have registered – Auckland would have thumped the BOP boys and I wouldn’t be writing about this. But this is an entirely different year. Auckland in 2008 are a shadow of their former self. The defending champions have lost too many players to retirement and overseas, plus they’ve been decimated by All Black duty. On the other hand the BOP boys had won 5 out of 6 and were playing well. Auckland were the underdogs.

For a long time they played like it was a deserved mantle. They were inept and the BOP were smashing them. Then some strange things happened. Three of our best players suffered serious injuries. Daniel Braid, the next best openside flanker in the country to Richie McCaw limped off. Joe Rokocoko followed shortly after and then a few minutes before half time, Lachie Munro suffered a severe elbow dislocation and we were stuffed. It looked like the Auckland team would lose by 50.

Only it didn’t play out that way. The Aucklanders rolled up their sleeves and played rugby as if they were from the Fitzy and Zinzan teams. Taniela Moa suddenly discovered he could play first five and we won in glorious fashion.

The game had everything you want in sport – drama, skill and an underdog triumphant. It was a fitting first part to the trilogy.

Part two was of course the All Blacks on Saturday night. This was a brilliant spectacle and featured the second stunning comeback of the weekend. Either team could have won this game but in the end it was McCaw and Dan Carter, the two all time greats in the NZ team, who were the difference between the sides.

The Aussies dominated the first half, the All Blacks operated on only 36% possession, and when they scored just before and after half time giving themselves a 17 – 7 lead it looked like it was over. But then, like Auckland the previous night, the ABs got on with the job and what followed was some scintillating rugby. It was sparked by the reserves but also inspirational play from Jerome Kaino and Rodney So’oialo. McCaw and Carter began to dominate and we scored three wonderful tries.

When the All Blacks led 28 – 17 it looked like the 11 point win I’d predicted was going to hold then the Aussies scored another try cutting it to 28 – 24 and we had perfect drama for the final few minutes. The All Blacks held on and it was glorious.

No one, including myself, expected the New Zealand Warriors to beat the Melbourne Storm. The Storm are the defending champions and had won the minor premiership. They were also playing at a ground they were near unbeatable at.

Only no one told the Warriors. They won in Melbourne last year and beat the Storm earlier in the season and they knew they could match them. And match them they did. They scored the first points and then refused to succumb to the Storm’s bully boy tactics. The Warriors matched the Storm, so much so that you thought you were watching a grand final game.

Manu Vatuvei played his best game for the Warriors. He was unstoppable and secure in defence. He seems to have cured his high ball problems and with that he becomes the best winger in the competition. His combination with Jerome Ropati is growing by the game and the try they set up for Michael Witt to win the game was all class and almost the length of the field.

The Warriors forward pack matched the Storm and in fact will have put the heebies into every other team. They play at home on Friday night to the Roosters and that game will be awesome.

If they can match that performance for another three games I believe they’ll win the championship.





All Blacks versus Wallabies preview

11 09 2008

This weekend the All Blacks play the Wallabies in the climax to the Tri Nations in Brisbane. If the All Blacks win they claim the Tri Nations and retain the Bledisloe Cup. If the Wallabies win they win the Tri Nations and have a chance at reclaiming the Bledisloe in the Hong Kong test match.

On another much more personal level it’s Robbie Deans versus the man whose job he should have, Graham Henry. If Deans Wallabies win his supporters will be crowing that he should have been coach. Henry is looking to validate his appointment. I know for some people the clash of the coaches is all that matters, for me I just want to smash the Aussies.

My favourite moment in sport is the 43 – 6 drubbing we handed the Aussies back in 1996. We played perfect wet weather rugby, scratch that we played perfect rugby. It was the first ever Tri Nations game and signalled the domination we would have over the tournament. If we come anywhere close to that performance I will be happy. I doubt we will but I can dream right?

So what do I think is going to happen this weekend?

We’re superior at the set piece. If the referee allows them to play properly and not fall for the aussie tricks then we should pummel them in the scrums, the departing Greg Somerville in particular will be looking for a huge game. The All Black lineout this year has been a revelation and they should continue that form this weekend though it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Aussies match us there.

For the first time in a while our backline looks settled. In Dan Carter we have the world’s best back but the Aussies can almost match us with Matt Giteau. Stirling Mortlock at second five helps us. At centre Mortlock is a terror and I have nightmares of all the times he has torn us apart. At second five we have Ma’a Nonu and I suspect he’ll be relishing the clash. The one player who worries me is Sivivatu and I just wish his cousin Rokocoko was playing in his place. However on the bench we have Isaia Toeava and he’s been in fine form. I suspect if Sivivatu is off his game he’ll be pulled and Toeava will take over.

Ultimately the game is going to come down to the breakdown. The awesome Richie McCaw against the impressive (but-not-quite-McCaw) George Smith. Unfortunately for us the Aussies have the better supporting cast – Phil Waugh and Rocky Elsom somewhat shade Kaino and So’oialo. But the game isn’t all about the loosies and I have a feeling that the ferocity of Ali Williams, Andrew Hore and Brad Thorn will ultimately tell.

Whatever the case it should be a cracking game.

I’m picking the All Blacks by 11.





the black wave

3 08 2008

Now that was more like it! An All Black performance worthy of the jersey. The men in black were awesome last night, the Wallabies not so much. They tried to counter what we were doing but it was like an adult playing basketball with a bunch of children – no matter what they tried the All Blacks were too strong, too powerful and too big.

It started before the kickoff when they did Kapo o Pango haka instead of the traditional Ka Mate haka. It was spine tingling and Kirsty and I were cheering like mad. Even my mum told me today she found it fierce. The awesome thing was the performance of the boys matched that of the haka.

I was reminded of NZ versus Australia in other sports. Sometimes, like when all the planets align and begin to sing Lithium from Nirvana, will we beat them. Take the league team – we win something like 10% of games against them. Test cricket is even worse – our only victories are when we have our best ever player bowling and the aussies are at their lowest ebb. The difference in class and performance between the two teams was like that last night. Only it was the All Blacks who were the gods.

Richie McCaw was supreme. We faltered in the last two games but with Captain Courageous back there was no chance of a repeat. Carter was brilliant and Cowan showed he can be world class when he applies himself. But the true stars were the forwards. They were fearsome, direct and menacing. At times they were like a black tidal wave assaulting the Wallabies.

That performance restored faith in the All Black jersey. When we play like that no one can touch us. The thing is to do it every week. In a couple of weeks we play the Springboks. That’s a good time to avenge that loss.





Redemption?

2 08 2008

In just over an hour the All Blacks have a shot at redemption. The way the media has been portraying it, if we don’t win the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be following shortly behind. Yeah right. It’s just a game and if we lose that’ll suck, sure, but if we play like an All Black team and still lose then I can handle that. We’ve obviously just been beaten by a better team on the day.

So what do I think will happen? Well the weather’s shit here in Auckland so there is a temptation to believe it’ll go like last week with even more handling errors. I don’t believe it will. We’re at home and the All Blacks will be hurting. I expect us to rebound from last week. The best thing going for us – Richie McCaw’s back. That gives our defence AND attack some starch. The second best thing – no Lauaki. He was a mess last week and hopefully we won’t see him in a black jersey again. One puzzling selection is Kahui on the wing. Have they lost faith in Tuitavake and Wulf? Weird. It just show’s how much they miss Rokocoko.

My prediction: All Blacks by 6.





Ouch part 2

27 07 2008

Well that hurt. More so than the Springboks loss a couple weeks back. That was against the World Champions and we were right in the game until the final whistle. Last night’s game started badly with Brad Thorn’s sinbinning and the subsequent 10 points the Wallabies scored then got worse the longer it went on. We had a brief period on top in the second half but it always felt fleeting as if it was only moments before the Aussies would take the lead again. And they did.

We played dumb dumb rugby, especially in that second half. Some people might point to the penalty try that should have been as the defining moment of the game but to be honest we didn’t deserve to win that game. We were so inept it was embarrassing. There are some who shouldn’t be playing next week – Sione Lauaki at the front of the list. He seemingly did one awesome thing only to be followed with three awful things.

We weren’t helped by the loss of both our half backs.  When Ellis came back on after his rib injury we suddenly couldn’t clear the ball and that ultimately cost us in our attempts to come back. Cowan showed his worth in stopping an aussie try but at the same time he got injured. God knows what we’re going to do next week, Taniela Moa anyone?

The All Blacks were outcoached. Robbie Deans showed he should be the one in charge. The Wallabies played like the Crusaders while the All Blacks played like the painfully flaky Blues teams of past years. The selection of Daniel Braid was a mistake, he was off the pace (as you’d expect for someone who’d been injured for a while) but replacing him with Lauaki was even more inexcusable.

Even in such a terrible performance there were some stars – namely Dan Carter. It was a privilege watching Carter and Giteau going at each other last night. Two awesome athletes at the top of their skills. Another star was Muliaina though he wasn’t immune to some flaky moments.

I honestly don’t know how we can recover for next week. Maybe if McCaw comes back but will he be able to compete for the 80 minutes after his injury layoff? I have this sinking feeling that we’re about to experience an awful run of losses like 1998 where we lost 5 in a row. I hope to the depths of my black beating heart that i’m wrong but so far 2008 feels like 1998. This is not good.





a whole lot of concepts

26 07 2008

I’ve spent most of the day playing Mass Effect which has been good. It’s got everything I liked about Knights of the Old Republic but with better graphics though it’s kind of a waste playing it through our crappy 21 inch tv. Oh well, one day we’ll get a big arse LCD or plasma. Only problem with spending a whole day gaming, now I’ve got one of those gamer’s headaches. Ironically when I turned off the game Radiohead were playing on ALT.tv. The song: Just. The lyrics: You do it to yourself, just you, you and no one else. Quite.

Of course it helps that the weather is awful. Means I didn’t feel so guilty that I didn’t do the garden, or grown up things like that. The paper today predicted it would be the worst storm of the decade and while Auckland isn’t quite that bad, other parts of the country haven’t been as fortunate. Of course the demon masters of the house have decided that I was the sofa today and I had both of them on me. Cheers guys.

I’m looking forward to the game tonight. NZ versus Australia in Sydney shoudl be a cracker though as I mentioned yesterday I think the Wallabies are going to win. The sides are fairly evenly matched so homeground advantage will probably decide it. One big plus for me is Tuitavake playing though Wulf shouldn’t have been dropped for him. The zombie that Sivivatu has become should have been the one making way. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if the All Blacks got up. In my mind the Aussies need it more than us – we just need to win 2 of the 4 tests to retain the Bledisloe and with the game in Auckland next week the Aussies have to win now. My prediction: Wallabies by 2.

And finally i present you with pretty pretty pictures. There’s some truly amazing stuff there with plenty of fodder for the imagination. (found via the Beat)