Monday, September 21, 2009

All Blacks: heroes of the nation once more by a vital cog...

I always enjoy 'ratings' of players. Everyone does it when it comes to union as well.

It generates sparks of chat, each respected voice carrying valid points to back their picks/highest rated players. Legends that hail from regions all over New Zealand are able to somehow infer that their players hold the characteristics typical of a generation that now happily dote on today's All Blacks and the bright future they hold. Every father and son in the country debating key players, every group of young bachelors talking at the television as Somerfield rattles off the weekend's events.

What I do find interesting though is that these ratings are out of 10. Sure Robson has score mainly middle of the road ratings, but none below 5.

The nature of the beast that is rugby union in this country is to criticise but to justify.

It's as if every Joe Public is an All Black as well and feels the need to never put the neck fully on the line to hammer Henry et al as to what is going wrong. We say that "at this level, there's no excuse" for school boy mistakes: well, why have these mistakes occurred? Complex play marred the basics: I'd love to know what, and how long for, fundamentals are covered in training sessions.

France and other Northern Hemisphere teams win by kicking. Basic.
South Africa wins with, well, hot men that have brawn. Kidding. Kind of. They play astutely, and with an unquivering sense of determination. As for skills, jacks of all trades, and mastering them too.

The All Blacks are trying to reinvent the wheel. A step back from that on Saturday, and hey presto! A trouncing of the Aussies.

Anyway, as per, I digress.

Kudos should go to Tom Donnelly for a sound debut on the weekend, lineouts that had been of such concern somehow became a factor of the game that the Aussies could not contest. Bizarre.

As for what is now my usual backing for Stephen Donald? He'll come right (am I backing the wrong horse out of stubbornness or am I fighting the Tall Daniel Carter Poppy fight?)

If he has heart, and we have had glimpses of the player he is (just like the player Henry and Smith was waiting for in Toeava...and got on Saturday), surely experience and guidance will ensure he is the man to be Carter's 2IC?

Right, the ratings. Thoughts on this one courtesy of Tony Robson? I think Tony Woodcock being described as a 'vital cog' is my pick of the summaries...

Ratings for the All Blacks over the nine test matches played so far in 2009:

Mils Muliaina (9 tests) 5.5
Never regained the form and confidence of last season and seemed to struggle with the lack of space to counterattack, losing his instinctive running game as he mulled over whether to kick or run.
Cory Jane (6 tests) 7.5
Strangely cast off after the win over Australia in Auckland, but deserves a regular start either on the wing or at fullback. Has all the skills a modern player needs.
Joe Rokocoko (8 tests) 5
His last test was his best, but still short of the pace that has marked his career.
Sitiveni Sivivatu (5 tests) 7
Disrupted by injury, but unrivalled ability to break the line. Scored just one try, but created countless opportunities.
Conrad Smith (5 tests) 6.5
Injury curtailed his progress, but it was business as usual for the solid centre with few mistakes, and one brilliant try against South Africa in Bloemfontein.
Isaia Toeava (5 tests) 6.5
Has he finally matured? Toeava produced a compelling finish to the season off the bench in Hamilton and for 80 minutes in Wellington. Has acceleration that could be devastating at test level and may be worth further consideration at centre.
Ma'a Nonu (9 tests) 7
The All Blacks' leading tryscorer this season with four, Nonu should not be shuffled from second-five again. Devastating ball-carrier and even when marked draws in defenders.
Luke McAlister (6 tests) 5
Broken cheekbone in Sydney summed up a disappointing return from Europe that did not go to plan. Will probably feature in future plans, but needs a big improvement.
Stephen Donald (7 tests) 5
A big heart, but continues to struggle with the pace of test rugby. Kicking game is too erratic the All Blacks need to develop a better backup for Dan Carter.
Dan Carter (3 tests) 7
Came back to kick the matchwinner in Sydney and immediately steadied the ship with his assured tactical kicking, decision-making and goalkicking. Class player.
Jimmy Cowan (7 tests) 6.5
Defensively brilliant and tough as teak, but option-taking, at times, and kicking game both still need to improve.
Kieran Read (9 tests) 7.5
The find of the season. Grew into his task with each test and has a firm hold on the No8 jersey. Exciting prospect.
Richie McCaw (9 tests) 7.5
Inspirational in Wellington and consistent throughout. A questionable call to turn down a penalty kick in Hamilton and needs a backup to ease his load through to the World Cup.
Jerome Kaino (7 tests) 6
Consistent without getting back to his barnstorming best with ball in hand.
Adam Thomson (3 tests) 6.5
Unwisely tried at openside flanker in the first test of the year, but finished with a blinder in Wellington at No6. Sure to get further chances.
Brad Thorn (9 tests) 8
Probably the pick of the All Blacks' pack in terms of consistently turning out quality efforts. Questions over whether he will last to the World Cup, but a key man in the current squad.
Isaac Ross (8 tests) 6.5
Has to shoulder some of the blame for the lineout wobbles as he was calling them, but overall a solid start to his test career. Probably needs to bulk up, but only a matter of time before he establishes himself at this level.
Neemia Tialata (5 tests) 5.5
Responded positively to being dropped lost weight and produced a strong finish in Wellington. Remains the best tighthead, but must not let up on fitness before the end-of-year tour.
Tony Woodcock (9 tests) 7
A vital cog and unchallenged as the incumbent loosehead. Got better as the season progressed after overcoming a lingering ear infection.
Owen Franks (6 tests) 6.5
A big find for the All Blacks and probably surprised with how well he stepped up to test rugby. Will only get better.
Andrew Hore (7 tests) 6.5
Took a while to get back to his best form and was not helped by the lineout malfunctioning at various times.
Keven Mealamu (6 tests) 6.5
Was starting to regain the zest that marked his early career before injury curtailed his season. Will be missed on the end-of-year tour.

Until next time,

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