7pm, 14th June, 2003
The Caketin, Wellington, NZ
England vs New Zealand
Referee: Stuart Dickinson, Australia
Fulltime score: England 15 - New Zealand 13
Half-time score: 6-6
In the worst game of rugby it has been my misfortune to witness, England proved to many doubters in NZ that they are indeed a force to be reckoned with come World Cup time. Not because they actually won this nauseating match, but because of the influence of Jonny Wilkinson and his faultless kicking, and their defense which held firm when down to 13 players. They deserved to win, but even if they hadn't those 2 factors where enough for me.
Let's be honest here. The ref was diabolical for both sides. Completely ruined the spectacle for everyone involved. Some of the perplexed looks on Martin Johnson and Reuben Thorne's faces where testiment to the fact that Stuart Dickinson is a complete dickhead.
Now thats out the way, lets look at some of the players who in their own small way contributed to the utter tripe we endured Saturday night.
The AB forwards by and large where OK. The standouts in the forwards where (once again) Jack and McCaw. Oliver had a very quiet game, and it was no surprise to see him subbed for Mealamu who looked strong in the loose. However the first scrum Mealamu packed into, he got popped up like a jack-in-the-box confirming the suspicion of his weak scrummaging. Williams showed some promise, but also inexperience near the end of the game getting isolated (wrong decision to pick and go) then backchatting the ref after being penalised. Somerville and Hewett had their hands full coping with the powerful England scrum, so it was no real surprise to see them in the tight most of the game. Rodney S also was quiet - just had the impression that physically he's too small. The cocaine dealer he was up against dwarfed him. Thorne was actually pretty active in this game, and considering the lack of impact shown by Jerry Collins when he came on, perhaps the quiet games by many AB's had more to do with the English forwards than anything else.
Now the backs. Ahhh the backs. These boys require a paragraph each! Let's start at No.9. Marshall had a strange game before he went off injured. Looked sharp, then pedestrian. Devine came on and it was much the same with some inaccurate passing.
Will talk about Spencer's kicking later, but even in general play Carlos was a mixed bag. He also looked like he was on holiday mentally with some laboured passing and misdirection. Then he'd make a clean break with some fancy footwork. Then he would throw a meaningless pass to someone in a bad position. Why oh why he didn't kick for position more I don't know. Has a question mark over him.
Umaga and Nonu where both awful. No penetration. Nonu was a spectator (as he was against both the Blues and Crusaders in the S12). I lost count how many fumbles Umaga had. Everytime he got tackled he seemed to lose the ball! Very disapointed in both their performances.
Ralph only lacks 2 things to be an international winger. Speed and size. Enuff said. Would feel better with Howlett there.
Speaking of Howlett...did he play? I seem to remember him scoring our only try from an obvious offside position. Apart from that it was a very quiet game by his standards.
Rokokoko doesn't deserve a paragraph.
Which brings us to Carlos and his goal kicking. I do not feel confident that he will be the man kicking our goals at the World Cup, especially if we want to win the thing! He simply isn't consistent. Despite his mixed game Saturday night, he does offer something positive at No.10. But if he is not kicking the goals it makes it hard to pick him as first choice first five, as outside of Mehrts, MacDonald and Mauger are in the same boat. I don't think Mehrts is out of the reckoning just yet!
For the English, both Wilkinson and Johnson where outstanding. Their whole team did a great job defensively. And thats all you can really say about them! The English forwards are a handful. Their backs not so (Wilkinson apart).
So where to from here for the AB's????? I think having Mauger at 2nd five gives a much more balanced backline than the one we had on show Saturday night. We needed someone creative outside Spencer. With Macca back at fullback it would allow Howlett back to his more accustomed wing position. Give Mulliana a go on the other wing. Carlos deserves another crack - but I would be rushing Mehrts back in that squad as soon as possible!
Forwards? l would like to see Jerry Collins given a go at No.8 ahead of Rodney S. Maybe Mealamu starting. Apart from that I wouldn't change much.
Some thinking is required by the AB selectors this coming week! Lets hope they get it right.