King Carlos Spencer announced as EP Kings Currie Cup head coach for 2014

Carlos Spencer, who joined EP Rugby in December last year, has been appointed as the EP Kings Currie Cup head coach ahead of their foray into the Premier Division.

Speaking at a press conference at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium today, EP Rugby CEO, Charl Crous, confirmed that the former New Zealand flyhalf would be head up the coaching staff for the Currie Cup 2014 season.

Crous said Spencer, who played for the Blues and for New Zealand internationally, was well known for his flamboyant, attacking play and ball handling skills and brought with him a wealth of experience.

carlos spencer getty images

carlos spencer getty images

“After the confirmation of the Currie Cup inclusion, there has been a lot of speculation about what we were going to do, as EP Rugby, in terms of who the head coach will be and it is great for us to announce that Carlos will be looking after Currie Cup in 2014 and will be stepping up into that position,” he said.

Crous said Spencer would be joined by Michael Horak on defence at the end of the Varsity Cup season, and would also be assisted by Robbi Kempson, who would work with the Forwards.

Spencer first rose to prominence when he starred alongside Christian Cullen in a Ranfurly Shield challenge in 1991, playing for the Horowhenua team against Auckland. Auckland coach Graham Henry spotted Spencer’s talent and recruited him to play for the Auckland team.

He played for the Blues Super 12 team from the inception of the competition in 1996 until 2005, and also played extensively for the Auckland NPC side. In 2005 he signed to the English club, Northampton Saints.

In 2010 Spencer signed for the Johannesburg-based Golden Lions, to play for the team in the 2010 and 2011 Super Rugby seasons. He subsequently took up a coaching role with the team before moving to the Durban-based Sharks for the 2013 season.

Spencer said this was his first time to hold a head coach position, but was excited at being given the opportunity.

“There are obviously challenges ahead, in terms of the head coach role, but I’m excited about it and looking forward to it and I feel I have the right people here to help me as well,” he said.

Spencer said there was a lot of hard work that needed to be done, but the players were committed and willing to work hard.

With regards to sourcing additional players, Spencer said they were looking at which players were available.

“It’s something we are still working on, obviously we do need certain players in certain areas, but it is something we are keeping close to our chest at the moment. Obviously we are working with the guys we do have, and right now our focus is on the guys we do have, and not the ones that we don’t,” he said.

Spencer described his coaching style as “very ambitious” and said that while he wanted the boys to have fun and enjoy themselves, he focused on hard work and instilling a good work ethic in his players.

“In terms of where we are in terms of our fitness at the moment, we’re way off the pace. The next eight to ten weeks that we have, we’ll sit down and work with players on their fitness, their strength and explosive power,” he said.

Spencer said he was excited to see the wealth of talent that the region was producing, and which had been showcased in the warm up matches that had been played.

Looking forward, he said he was not expecting too much from this year’s Currie Cup.

“This is a big step up for a lot of players. It’s going to take a lot of work and I’m not expecting too much out of this first Currie Cup, I just want to see the team being competitive. If anything happens above that, it’s a bonus.”

“This is not a six month process, it will take time, but we are excited at having the opportunity and we just need to make the most of it,” he said.

The talk is about how much the Boks have to prove in their finale at Ellis Park against New Zealand

5. Boks-All Blacks II

All the talk is about how much the Springboks have to prove in their Rugby Championship finale at Ellis Park against New Zealand. But I wonder. Knowing the mentality of the All Blacks, and the pride they take in their status in the game, I’m sure they would have been as gutted as anyone that their victory at Eden Park was so sullied by the dismissal of Bismarck du Plessis. The Springboks were primed for an historic victory in Auckland, and the media view in SA is that they were denied it by Poite. Back at their Johannesburg fortress, they’ll be coming out with withering intent. But don’t doubt these All Blacks, being brilliantly led by No 8 Kieran Read who’s in the form of his life. What better stage on which to make their biggest statement since that fateful October night at Eden Park in 2011. Bring it on!

– © Fairfax NZ News

By Marc Hinton

Dan Carter not back before Nov end year tour

Dan Carter will not be back before November’s tour north, but the jury’s still out on whether skipper Richie McCaw could make the All Blacks’ hotly anticipated Johannesburg rematch against the seething Springboks.

Coach Steve Hansen today confirmed Carter would be out for around six weeks after suffering a grade 3 AC joint (shoulder) injury during last night’s gruelling, and controversial, 29-15 victory over South Africa at Eden Park.

He will be replaced by Canterbury’s Tom Taylor who leapfrogs Colin Slade back into the 28-man squad to play matches against Argentina in La Plata (September 28) and South Africa in Jo’burg a week later, though Aaron Cruden is expected to be fit again to contest the starting jersey with Beauden Barrett.

Carter lasted just a quarter of an hour of an explosive encounter at Eden Park before injuring his shoulder in a hard, but legal, hit from Boks hooker Bismarck du Plessis which was wrongly deemed a yellow card offence by French referee Romain Poite.

Even Carter later, via Twitter, admitted there had been nothing dodgy about the du Plessis tackle which ultimately led to the Boks’ best forward being sent off just minutes into the second half when he picked up a second yellow card offence for leading with his elbow into a Liam Messam tackle. Du Plessis will now face a Sanzar judicial hearing.

“There are only two games left [in the Rugby Championship], plus the [third] Bledisloe [in Dunedin], he’ll probably miss those three and hopefully get on the plane to go to Paris,” said a largely satisfied Hansen on Carter’s prognosis today.

Despite the controversy around the sending-off of du Plessis, which ultimately robbed a stirring encounter of a fair finale, the All Blacks took control of the Rugby Championship as they secured a bonus point victory and left the previously unbeaten Boks pointless.

The New Zealanders now lead the South Africans by four points on the standings, heading into their road trip to conclude the campaign. It’s more than likely the title will be decided in the competition finale at Ellis Park, which may or may not see the return of a fast-healing McCaw from his medial ligament injury.

Hansen said it would be touch and go whether the skipper makes the 28-man touring squad, with Sanzar offering no leeway to carry extra players recovering from injury.

“That’s the conundrum,” said Hansen. “Unfortunately we’re only allowed to take 28 players, and if we took him, and he won’t be available for Argentina, then we can only can select from 27.

“We’ll wait and see later in the week how his [rehab] work has gone and if there’s any likelihood of him being able to play against South Africa then we’ll probably take him, leave Matt [Todd] here to play for Canterbury, and if Richie’s doesn’t make the progress we thought in Argentina then we’ll fly Matt to South Africa.”

That scenario would see the All Blacks take just one specialist openside in against the Pumas – youngster Sam Cane – but that appears to be a risk Hansen is prepared to take if McCaw is a chance to play against the Boks.

Fullback Israel Dagg is not expected to be affected by the thigh haematoma he suffered last night, while the rest of the squad will be fit. None of the touring 28 will be released for ITM Cup action next weekend.

Hansen today said he’d been rapt with the way his men stood up to a rousing Boks challenge to preserve their 32-test unbeaten record at Eden Park and to tuck away their seventh straight victory for 2013. They also ended a nine-game winning streak from the South Africans.

“I’m very proud of what we achieved. It was a massive test match — it was built up to be one and came out to be one. It was a really physical encounter, and we stood up to that, scored four tries in various manners, got a bonus point out of it and stopped them getting one. That’s going to be vitally important for the outcome of the championship.”

And Hansen came to the defence of referee Romain Poite who has been criticised by some for dishing out a total of four yellow cards, including the double for du Plessis which effectively ended the Boks hopes just minutes into the second half.

The South Africans refused to comment of Poite’s decisions after the game, but were bitterly disappointed that his two cards on du Plessis effectively robbed them of a chance to sustain their challenge against the New Zealanders.

“I think he made one [mistake] on Bismarck’s [first] yellow card, no doubt about that, and he’ll know that himself,” said Hansen. “You could sit here and talk about entry points to the breakdown, and tacklers not letting the ball go, but I could do that every Sunday.

“It’s just a difficult game to referee. Under difficult circumstances I thought he was good. It shouldn’t be a game remembered for the referee, it should be remembered for the things the athletes did out there.”

– © Fairfax NZ News

All Blacks win but red card ruins a good game

The All Blacks won again at fortress Eden Park tonight in a result that leaves Steve Hansen’s team with one hand already on the Rugby Championship trophy.

The 29-15 win will be deemed a controversial one in South Africa as Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis was sent off early the second half after receiving two yellow cards.

It could be argued this was Hansen’s biggest test yet as All Blacks head coach and with the way his year is panning out, the Springboks look likely to be the only opposition who’ll be able to give his side a decent game.

While South Africa posed a physical threat the All Blacks often found tough to handle, it was the home side’s finer skills that allowed them to win their 30th test in a row at Eden Park.

It didn’t start well for Dane Coles, with his first lineout throw getting picked off by Flip Van der Merwe and the first All Blacks’ scrum wasn’t much better with the Springboks rewarded with a penalty from it.

However, it took a stunning 40m kick from Ma’a Nonu in the third minute to get the All Blacks into the game and, from an ensuing lineout, stand in skipper Kieran Read picked the ball out of a ruck and drove over for a try.

Morne Steyn goaled a penalty in the 10th minute, but the next real action came six minutes later when an all-in brawl erupted after du Plessis put a big hit in on Dan Carter.

The All Blacks reacted badly to it and the South African hooker was yellow carded, but numerous replays suggested there was nothing wrong with the tackle.

While it was probably legal, it did bring an end to the game for Carter, who had to be replaced by Beauden Barrett because of a shoulder problem.

Five minutes later, Brodie Retallick scored his maiden test try, which was inspired by a superb run up the middle of the field by Barrett and from the next phase Conrad Smith made the decisive pass to set up the lock.

Du Plessis made a big impact in his return to the game, scoring a try as the Boks got a rolling maul moving, but Barrett would later kick the first penalty of the game for New Zealand, making the score 17-10 at the break.

Two minutes into the second half du Plessis was seeing red and given his marching orders for the second time, for leading with his elbow as he ran into Liam Messam.

Referee Romain Poite was right to show du Plessis a yellow card for the offence but he was unfortunate to be dismissed given he didn’t deserve the first yellow.

The All Blacks immediately made the extra player count with Read scoring his second try in the 47th minute and with a 14-point lead the game was as good as in the bag with 30 minutes left.

Sam Cane, despite wearing headgear to cover a nasty gash from an earlier knock, bravely soldiered on and scored the All Blacks’ bonus point try in the 68th minute to further enhance his side’s chances of retaining their Rugby Championship trophy.

However, it didn’t end well for the All Blacks with both Read and Nonu given yellow cards in the last 10 minutes.

Patrick Lambie soon capitalised and crossed not long after for a consolation try.

But it was a case of too little, too late as the All Blacks secured a relatively comfortable win, albeit not one without controversy.

New Zealand 29 (K Read 2, B Retallick, S Cane tries; D Carter con, B Barrett 3 cons, pen) South Africa 15 (B du Plessis, P Kambie tries; M Steyn pen, con) HT: 17-10.

– © Fairfax NZ News

All Blacks need a strong Springbok team to validate them.

My great friend Mike Greenaway has been fortunate to cover many of South Africa’s post-isolation Test matches in New Zealand and have learned beyond any shadow of doubt that the Kiwi rugby public loves nothing better than a strong Springbok team visiting their shores.

He recalls being in 2005 being in Dunedin for the match between John Smit’s defending Tri-Nations champion team and the All Blacks at Carisbrook, and at stake was the crown. The team that won that match would win the Tri-Nations.

It was a week of feverish excitement in Dunedin. The old rivalry had been revived and gripped the “Edinburgh of the South”, as the icy city is known because of its strong Scottish ancestry. On the morning of the match, the Otago Daily Times carried this headline across its back page: “Welcome back Boks – we have missed you”.

This was a reference to that dreadful period in the Springbok-All Blacks rivalry where the South Africans went missing in action. After having beaten the Kiwis in the third-place play-off at the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Cardiff, the Boks then lost eight in a row to the All Blacks, including the infamous 16-52 humiliation at the (former) fortress of South African rugby, Loftus Versfeld, in 2003.

South Africa won the Tri-Nations the next year in their first campaign under Jake White and Smit and, although they did not win in New Zealand, there was a sound drought-breaking triumph at Ellis Park, and in the next match between the sides, the following year, the Boks were resounding winners at Newlands.

Which brought them to Dunedin for the return match and the Kiwis were indeed thrilled that there was again a genuine contest between their team and their old foe. There was a column by a veteran journalist who recalled how as a youth he had woken up in the early hours when the All Blacks were touring South Africa and with his dad had listened to the radio commentary that told of these monstrous Springboks that were dominating Test after Test, and he wondered at the time if they could ever be beaten.

Indeed, in the pre-isolation era, the Boks beat the All Blacks more often than they lost, although there was not too much in it. In 1992, before the isolation-breaking Test between the countries at Ellis Park, the Boks were up 20-17 in Tests between the countries.

Sadly, that positive record was quickly overturned in the professional era. The All Blacks had moved up to another level following the Boks’ isolation following that tremendous series between the teams in 1981, which should have ended in a drawn rubber had it not been for the shameless interfering of Welsh referee Clive Norling – who to this day knows better than to set foot in South Africa – in the infamous “flour bomb” Test at Eden Park.

The All Blacks won that Test with a late penalty by fullback Alan Hewson after a penalty contrived by Norling. Incidentally, that 2005 Test in Dunedin lived up to expectation and the All Blacks won that match (and the Tri-Nations) with a late try by hooker Keven Mealamu.

In general, though, the Boks have been inconsistent against the All Blacks post their 1995 Rugby World Cup final triumph. In 40 matches since 1996, the All Blacks have won 28 and the Boks just 12, with only three wins on New Zealand soil in 17 years of annual visits.

That is why New Zealand gets so excited when a strong Springbok team visits, as is the case this week. The reports out of New Zealand clearly indicate that the country is once more seized with rugby fever.

The reason is because the All Blacks need a strong Springbok team to validate them. They routinely beat everybody, give or take France occasionally upsetting them in World Cups and the Wallabies once in a while providing a Bledisloe Cup upset.

However, it is the Boks that still have that historic ability to render the All Blacks human when they are seemingly unbeatable. The Kiwis know it and they would rather have that competition than not.

Five starting changes to the All Blacks team to take on the Springboks in Auckland on Saturday.

Liam Messam and Dane Coles will be hot topics today.

The pair are two of five starting changes to the All Blacks team to take on the Springboks in Auckland on Saturday.

Messam, who has recovered from a calf injury suffered in the lead-up to the opening Bledisloe Cup test, has ousted Steven Luatua.

With the door opened, Luatua proved with his vast array of skills he was up to the task at this level.

But after three impressive tests the Blues blindside flanker has been given a spell. He will also provide locking cover from the bench, pushing Jeremy Thrush out of the side.

Messam will need a strong showing to hold his challenger at bay, though with Richie McCaw out for up to five weeks the incumbent’s experience could be valuable.

There were some tough decisions to be made, none more so than between Liam and Steven,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen acknowledged. “In the end we have gone for Liam’s extra experience and physicality, but we also know that Steven will enter the contest at some stage.”

Against a typically brutal Boks forward pack, Coles faces the sternest challenge of his career at hooker after coming off the bench in the last three assignments. The Hurricanes rake takes over from Andrew Hore with veteran Keven Mealamu coming into the reserves.

While Coles started twice against France in June, a rampant Boks team attempting to steal the No 1 mantle promise a much greater confrontation in the tight exchanges.

The same is true for Sam Cane. No doubt the Boks plan to assess the openside’s ability to step up in McCaw’s absence. The 21-year-old will play his 10th test and earn his sixth start in the coveted seven jersey. Canterbury’s Matt Todd will provide cover.

Ma’a Nonu is back after resting his ankle to reclaim the second five-eighth role from rookie Francis Saili, who has been released for NPC duties, as have Frank Halai, Ben Franks and Luke Whitelock. Nonu’s presence outside Dan Carter will be crucial to gaining punch in the midfield, and his battle with Boks captain Jean de Villiers should be captivating.

Owen Franks’ return from a groin complaint for his 50th test will also be welcomed. The All Blacks scrum battled for ascendancy against Argentina in Hamilton last week and the addition of their first-choice tight-head, which pushes Charlie Faumuina to the pine, should help shore up this area.

Kieran Read will lead the All Blacks and attempt to preserve their 30-test unbeaten run at fortress Eden Park, dating back to 1994.

“The test match is shaping up to be a massive occasion with the two top-ranked sides in the world coming together for what will be a special night for both teams, as well as our fans,” Hansen said. “Both teams are in good form and will bring their respective strengths to the contest.

“We have a massive amount of respect for South Africa and have prepared accordingly. The physical challenge will be huge – as it always it is – and the team that executes their game with the greatest effectiveness, clarity and intensity will be the one that comes out on top. The whole All Blacks group is looking forward to this challenge as it will give us a great indication of what level our game is at.”

HOW THEY LINE UP

NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Matt Todd, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.

SOUTH AFRICA: Zane Kirchner, Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers (c), Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Juandre Kruger, Siya Kolisi, Jano Vermaak, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.

– © Fairfax NZ News

The bold and brave new era of All Blacks rugby continues with promotion of an uncapped 24-year-old

The bold and brave new era of All Blacks rugby continues apace with today’s dramatic promotion of uncapped 24-year-old Canterbury son-of-a-gun Tom Taylor to his first test start.

The theory that coach Steve Hansen is rewriting the once conservative book on All Black selection gained further credence when Taylor was named to start at No 10 for Saturday’s second Bledisloe, and Rugby Championship, test against the Wallabies at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.

With Dan Carter (torn calf), Aaron Cruden (knee) and Beauden Barrett (calf strain) all ruled out for Saturday, the All Blacks were down to the fourth and fifth rung on their depth chart when they called up Canterbury team-mates Taylor, son of 1987 World Cup-winning midfielder Warwick Taylor, and 10-test international Colin Slade to bolster their first five-eighths stock.

The conservative pick – the one the All Blacks would probably have gone for under any number of previous coaches – would have been Slade. He has test experience, and that normally counts for a lot. He was even part of the 2011 World Cup-winning campaign, before limping off in the quarter-final with a groin tear.

But Hansen has shown he is a more progressive and more willing to take risks to achieve results than his grounded southern persona perhaps reflects.

Taylor is the risky selection, but also the exciting one. This is a young man who looks like he could be something special, with a steely goalkicking nerve – he slotted them at 90 per cent for the Crusaders this year – and a natural feel for the game that is clearly in his genes.

Slade is also a gifted footballer, but he has struggled to regain his very best form since suffering a succession of injuries following the last World Cup. At 25 he has time still on his side, but he is a young man rebuilding his confidence, rather than revelling in it.

Taylor has been on the All Blacks radar for a while now, with his ability to play 10, 12 or 15 with equal assurance. In fact, his lack of game-time at No 10 further underlines the audacity of Hansen’s selection.

Taylor played one warmup game at first-five for the Crusaders before starting seven matches at second-five and a further three at fullback during their Super Rugby campaign.

But Hansen is happy to roll the dice with an opportunity that has come a little ahead of schedule, and maybe in a different position than he might have envisioned.

“He is mentally tough and plays the game with a lot of confidence and maturity,” said Hansen. “These factors, along with his assured goalkicking under pressure, has made this an easy selection.

“We have every faith that he will handle the occasion with aplomb.”

Taylor is one of two injury-enforced changes from the team that started last week’s impressive Bledisloe victory over the Wallabies in Sydney.

The other will raise less eyebrows, with well performed Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick coming in for Luke Romano who is out for the remainder of the Rugby Championship with a groin injury.

The test will also be the 100th cap for veteran loosehead prop Tony Woodcock who is part of an unchanged front row, deservedly retained after their superior scrummaging display in Sydney.

There is more movement in the reserves, where Wellington hooker Dane Coles comes back into the matchday 23 after proving his fitness at provincial level, as does fit-again prop Wyatt Crockett and Lions skipper Jeremy Thrush to cover lock.

In the backs, Slade makes is named in the All Blacks for the first time since 2011 and Taylor’s ability to cover second-five means Auckland’s Charles Piutau replaces Ryan Crotty as the outside back cover.

Hansen said it would be a special test for Woodcock as he became the All Blacks’ fourth test centurion, behind skipper Richie McCaw (117), Keven Mealamu (105) and Mils Muliaina (100).

Some had wondered whether Woodcock’s days were numbered after Crockett’s performances in the June tests, but last Saturday night provided a timely reminder of what the 32-year-old is still capable of.

“Woody is a hugely respected player within the group who always puts the team first,” said Hansen. “It has been business as usual for him and the team this week, but we will enjoy acknowledging his achievement with him after the game.”

Hansen also warned against any complacency following the 47-29 victory in Sydney that sees the All Blacks just one win away from retaining the Bledisloe Cup for another year.

“They will be hurting after that test and will throw everything at us,” he said. “They will be looking to play with more accuracy and intensity, so we will need to meet – or better – that with a higher level of execution right across the board.”

Meanwhile, Frank Halai (Counties Manukau), Joe Moody (Canterbury) and Brad Shields (Wellington) have been released to play in week two of the national provincial championship if required.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Tom Taylor, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Steven Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Colin Slade, Charles Piutau.

– © Fairfax NZ News

More pressure on Australia Rugby

Getty Images
SAME OLD: This was supposed to be the Bledisloe that sparked the Wallaby revival – but that wasn’t how it turned out.

OPINION: This was supposed to be the Bledisloe that sparked the Wallaby revival. Instead, after an emphatic All Black victory, all it’s done is heap more pressure on Australian rugby.

The Wallabies had such a huge buildup and high expectations around how they were going to turn things round.

All we heard all week was how significant Ewen McKenzie was going to be and the difference he was going to make.

I know people in Australia had a problem with Robbie Deans but McKenzie was never going to change anything just by his presence. He still selects from the same pool of players Deans had to.

McKenzie’s trump card was supposed to be his ability to “reinvigorate” his players and come up with a game-plan they could respond to.

I think maybe Robbie would have been sitting at home in his lounge in Mossman with a slight smirk on his face. It was naive to think getting rid of him would provide a simple solution.

New Zealand are a good dozen points better than Australia every time they hit the park, and it’s going to take more than a coaching change to bridge that gap.

I’ve got nothing but praise for the way the All Blacks played. Even the odd error can be excused when you’re playing at such intensity and pace you are blowing the other team away.

They were also pretty ruthless at converting pressure situations into points. The Wallabies just couldn’t cope.

Australia showed an ability to break the line but it was all too rare. Often they were in full scramble mode and didn’t deal with the pressure at all well.

McKenzie will be feeling that pressure today as he plots the rematch in just a few days’ time. Some of his selections didn’t provide the answers sought, and others just couldn’t get into the game. What’s his next move?

I was rapt to see Aaron Cruden play so very well given his previous experience in Sydney under similar circumstances.

He led the team round the field magnificently and had a great understanding with Aaron Smith who played close to his best test for the All Blacks.

The rest were in sync with those two guys. They all contributed, and they were all hungry.

But it would be remiss not to highlight the skipper’s efforts. Richie McCaw was outstanding. I never doubted, with his heart, he’d get through fitness wise. It was just a matter of how his body coped.

No amount of running trains your body for someone coming like a missile to smash you into the ground, then six other blokes landing on top. Then you get up and do it again.

But not only did he survive, he thrived. Some of those early errors were just over-enthusiasm, and once he got on page with the referee he was as influential as ever. He looks like he’s only going to get better too.

You could tell the sabbatical has worked well for him. He loves playing for the All Blacks and couldn’t wait to get back into it. He looked hungry too, which is a great sign.

The All Blacks scrum was excellent, but I’m not convinced by the new laws.

I understand they took away the hit and distance between front rows to stop the folding in at impact. But there’s still spinning and manipulating going on, and a lot of bumbled ball.

And hookers don’t have a fair chance to hook the ball if referees are so vigilant on the feed.

The scrum is a restart, but demanding straight feeds just creates more restarts, with short-arm penalties, and then full penalties.

That doesn’t solve anything. Instead of clearing up this area, it’s made it even more clouded.

I tell you this: halfbacks would get a bollocking from their coach and front row if they put it right down the middle, because it’s impossible to hook it that way.

Argentina is also a major worry after their humiliation at the hands of the Boks.

It wasn’t good seeing the ease with which South Africa scored their tries. That’s not what this Rugby Championship needs.

I’ve got real fears how they’re going to fare, and how long they may last. They’re on thin ice. They didn’t win a game last year and everyone cut them slack because they were new. Now it looks like they’ve taken a step backwards.

We need competitiveness. They need to get up to speed, and quick. It’s great to have them in the championship, but they’ve got to produce the rugby to validate being there.

Justin Marshall played 81 tests for the All Blacks, and is the chief rugby analyst for Sky Television.

– © Fairfax NZ News

All Blacks blow Wallabies away in Sydney

The All Blacks celebrated their 100th test victory over the Wallabies to safeguard a decade-long ownership of the Bledisloe Cup in Sydney tonight, as the start of Ewen McKenzie’s tenure added to Australia’s recent sporting humiliations.

McKenzie was unable to match his predecessor Robbie Deans by savouring a win in his first trans-Tasman test as head coach against the All Blacks as the world champions completed an emphatic 47-29 victory – just three points shy of the record 50-point haul they amassed here at ANZ Stadium in 2003.

Although the All Blacks preparations were hampered by the loss of Dan Carter and Liam Messam before the squad left Wellington – and there were concerns over Richie McCaw’s lack of game time returning from a sabbatical – New Zealand still maintained their dominance of a Wallabies side in transition.

After suffering their seventh defeat in eight tests at the venue the Wallabies face the challenging task of winning in Wellington next week to ensure the first Bledisloe clash at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium in October is not the customary dead rubber.

Ominously the Wallabies not won back-to-back tests in New Zealand since 1949 – their last success occurred in 2001.

McKenzie’s ploy of introducing personnel that were not exposed to the trauma suffered by teams selected by predecessor Robbie Deans was admirable though now nine more Wallaby players are scarred by the experience of facing the All Blacks, to varying degrees.

In contrast, Aaron Cruden exorcised any demons from his previous Bledisloe in Sydney three years ago where he was subbed for Colin Slade before two late tries salvaged a 23-22 victory.

Cruden made the ideal start at the culmination of a concerted build-up from the kick-off when his flick pass found Ben Smith in space after James O’Connor mistakenly veered of his wing in the third minute – an early score reminiscent of the Lions rapid start to their crushing win six weeks ago.

The Wallabies managed to regroup through the reliable boot of Christian Leali’ifano, though it the second five-eighth’s charged down clearance by Cruden on the half hour enabled the pivot to score his second test try.

Two minutes later a missed touch finder by Jesse Mogg initiated a record-breaking five-pointer by McCaw, who atoned for the concession of three ruck penalties, when he dived over in O’Connor’s wing for his ninth touchdown in trans-Tasman clashes – eclipsing former Wallaby wing David Campese’s eight-try haul.

That quick-fire double threatened to dispirit the Wallabies but inspirational halfback Will Genia responded with a runaway try reminiscent of his Super 14 championship-winning try in 2011 when Michael Hooper snaffled an overthrown All Black lineout two minutes from the break.

Genia received the ball 70-metres out and held Cruden and Aaron Smith at bay before wrong-footing a stumbling Israel Dagg.

Cruden nailed a penalty after the hooter to give the All Blacks a 25-19 advantage, whittled back to three five minutes after the resumption as Leali’ifano maintained his perfect record but trademark ruthlessness signalled the key momentum shift.

A snipe by Aaron Smith, who was excellent despite predictable feeding issues at the scrum, freed up Conrad Smith for the bonus-point try in the 52nd minute; Ben Smith then added his second before the final quarter when the wing crossed with ease when Genia fluffed a scrum clearance.

That twin setback prompted Quade Cooper’s injection from the bench for Toomua, and we promptly delighted All Blacks supporters by failing to push his first restart 10m.

Smith completed the rout – and his hattrick – when pouncing on a loose ball eight minutes from the end of another dark night for Australian rugby.

All Blacks 47 (Ben Smith 3, Aaron Cruden, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith tries; Aaron Cruden 3 pen 3 con; Beauden Barrett con) Wallabies 29 (Will Genia, James O’Connor tries; Christian Leali’ifano 5 pens 2 con). HT: 25-19

– © Fairfax NZ News

Rugby Championship 2013 -My take on things

Well it all starts on Saturday in Sydney -All Blacks vs Australia . and then latter that day Boks vs Argentina

The simple point to make is the Boks will always have a Steyn or Van Der Merwe to be competitive ,but to win the 2013 competition they have no chance.

Forget the waffle one hears on Supersport ,this Bok team is average at best .What are you saying by bringing back Fourie Du Preez and Pienaar at 9 for the Boks is a one trick pony.

The Boks will loose both the tour matches one in Brisbane and the other at Eden Park against the All Blacks , but to be fair not many teams do win at fortress Eden Park.

So where does it leave the Boks? -3rd at best and mind you they could trip up at Newlands -A Steyn penalty in the dying minutes saved them last time out against Australia and by the time the Boks play the All Blacks on 6 Oct at Ellis Park it could be all over by then .

All Blacks champs again for 2013 ?

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