Written 11 November 2016
Two upsets in the last ten days: Trump beats Clinton to become president of the USA and Ireland beat the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand 40 - 29; in Chicago of all places. At least the rugby players of both teams turned out in full; in the USA election, a mere 52% bothered to ‘play’. Clinton beat Trump by over 100,000 votes but the archaic delegate system denied her and there was no TMO at hand to help: She was Trumped by a Yarborough – I nearly wrote ‘Yahoo’ but then John Bunyan did not write the script.
Back to the more important encounter: Ireland won this epic match against the All Blacks because they had done their homework, prepared a plan, agreed to apply the basic skills faultlessly and deny their opponents both ball and opportunity. They smothered the All Black attacks. Not only was their tackling ferocious and fearless, it was effective. The Irish players were galvanised for the full 80 minutes, and were full value for their victory. As usual, the All Blacks continued with Beauden Barrett as first-choice goal-kicker – the worst in the current game: he missed three out of four! What the hell can the coaches Hansen and Smith be thinking? Another undeniable factor in this game was evidence that the All Blacks under rush-defence, runner receiving man-and-ball, became brittle and the standard of passing dropped – pun intended. The Irish rattled them into error.
Joe Schmidt, a New Zealander himself, and the Irish head coach, deserves a major share of the plaudits. He ticked every box. All areas of play had been carefully assessed. Counter-attackers had been identified: Ben Smith was snuffed out early; Julian Savea was taken very low, to minimise the brutal inside hip barge, used so effectively to bounce tacklers off. The Irish fullback, Kearney was powerful on attack, driving through tacklers to gain precious metres before off loading. Backline moves had been carefully prepared and rehearsed to perfection e.g. Henshaw’s try. At scrumhalf, Murray was outstanding on defence and attack. His try came after sustained forward pressure. Every forward knew his part and played it well for the entire game. There was no way the Irish in this match were going to allow the famous ‘last-quarter’ onslaught from the New Zealanders. It was in this last part of the match that Ireland upped the ante. They raised their game.
The first scrum of the match occurred in the 24th minute! What’s going on here? Well, for one thing, the players passing and handling skills in this match were of a very high standard. The referee, too, played the advantage rule very well so that counter-attackers could benefit from a knocked ball by the opposition. So dominance in scrums was of little influence. Balls went in crooked, scrums were untidy, but the ball came out and off it went down the line. Lineouts were a different thing entirely; here, both teams, superbly coached, used the driving maul to good effect e.g. Stander’s try.
The South African match against the Barbarians saw nine tries scored, some of them quite brilliant in their wizardry off the ball, fine sprinting and finishing. Disappointing again was our passing and general distribution. When are we going to use the offload to keep the attacks alive and this at speed? It is quite obvious we do not practise it enough or recognise its devastating effectiveness in loose play. I suppose I’m a conservative old bugger but matches like this mean little to me. Teams chosen are expected to ‘run the ball’ rather than take the safer options. What the Baa-baas matches do offer though are opportunities for teams to use attacking ploys from well inside their own half. It can lead to some exhilarating running. Faddes’ try was a gem. A draw was I suppose a fair reflection of play: 32 - 32.
I note Eddie Jones is up to his usual pre-match tricks – talking up a storm, now bringing in judo trainers – what’s this about? Perhaps, Trump’s new pal, Putin, a well known judokai, is in the mix, hacking the Boks training manuals. I jest. Seriously, to beat England, the Boks have to get and retain good ball and use it with great judgement; no aimless kicking downfield, no losing the ball in the tackle, support better than ever and goal-kicking near perfect. Keep the ball in hand!