At the international and professional level of any sport there is only one goal. One. You are not there to showcase your skills. You are not there to advertise your country. You are not there to do anything but win the goddamn game.
That is why at certain times this week I have become angry at Graham Henry. Don't worry; I'm not joining Chris Rattue on his Robbie Deans-is-the-sexiest-man-alive soapbox. I just feel that there were some questionable personnel decisions on the weekend.
But let's start at the beginning…
The All Blacks ran out onto Murrayfield and I'm not sure anyone knew they were there. Like the world's first team of rugby-ninjas they made their way onto the pitch undercover of darkness as the lights of the stadium were left off until the anthems began. And the anthems had no vocals, so we were able to hear that wonderful melodic sound of rugby players trying desperately to remember all the words and sing in tune.
After the haka the Scots sent out their very successful Olympic cyclist as a ceremonial ball-boy. The commentators (including Murray Mexted, groan) had decided that this was yet another evil scheme to disrupt the effect of the haka. The haka that the opposition don't really have to let us do.
I get very annoyed when opposing teams supposedly "disrespect" the haka. In my mind they can do whatever they want while we do our little dance. And if it's their home ground and they want to sing a wee song afterwards then why would we see that as disrespect?
Quick uniform notes (I'll get them out of the way now):
- The All Blacks shorts now have logos on them. One leg has the silver fern and the other has the Adidas logo, but they are on opposite sides to their placement on the jersey.
- Some All Blacks, including Kevan Mealamu, wore long sleeves under their jerseys. This undershirt came with the obligatory Adidas logo just above the elbow.
- This means that some players had eight Adidas logos on them! One on the jersey, one on the shorts, one on each sock, one on each long sleeve and one in each number on their back
- The Scots, playing in their alternate strips, out did us in that category though. They had Canterbury logos on the front and back of their shorts, an extra logo on the back and, of course, the trademarked Canterbury Wallabra.
- And speaking of the white jerseys, I thought Scotland played in Navy at home and only donned the white when playing the All Blacks on the road. Do I have that backwards?
- Although the ugliest uniforms of the weekend were those bizarre red get-ups the English were wearing. Nike, stop ruining our duds.
- To the clothing manufacturers, can we please go back to the days of jersey swapping? It might still happen in the locker room, but for some reason it doesn't feel right.
Now to the game. Wayne Barnes blew his whistle a lot, however, for the most part he was correct in his rulings. His sending off of Scottish midfielder Nick de Luca for "cynical" play was harsh but justified. However, it did send the commentators into a feedback loop. First one said "cynical play", then they were agreed with "yes, cynical play", then "clearly cynical", then "we don't need cynical play like that". All in all I think I counted 10 or so uses of "cynical". Interestingly I'm not entirely sure de Luca was being cynical, unless he really didn't have any belief in his team.
The thing that got me about Barnes was his scrums. He constantly penalised All Black debutant Jamie Mackintosh for early engagement. Listening carefully, it was clear that Mackintosh (or perhaps the guys behind him) was finding it hard to predict Barnes' scrum call cadence (crouch, touch, pause… engage!). Here in the antipodes the refs tend to say "engage" directly after the (unnecessary) word "pause" (ie. crouch, touch, paaaaaaaauuuuuusssseeengage!). Mackintosh might be a good sizable option in the scrum but to my mind he is not a starter in the All Blacks, especially if he can't change his scrum tactics on the fly.
Ma'a Nonu had another one of his crappy games (which means he'll be good next week). When Nonu is playing like that you can assume that he will not get better. I cannot remember a game where Nonu starts out flat-footed and fumbly and then comes right and is brilliant.
These choices had me yelling at Henry (though he was in Scotland and the broadcast was delayed). You play to win the game, and you are more likely to win the game with Mackintosh and Nonu on the sideline.
Also, Scotland, WTF? When the opposition's kicker is lining up you do not sit quietly and respectfully while he tries to slot it. You do everything in your power (as the 16th man) to disrupt him. And usually that means some kinds of shouting or general disturbance. Poor showing Scottish crowd, remember, they play to win the game, you shout to win the game.
There are a bunch of new players that I wouldn't have benched for anything (other than injury). Kahui, Messam, Tuituvake and Donald (yeah I can't believe the last one either). Toeava had a good game too before wrecking his shoulder quite painfully. Shame, because he seemed to be coming around.
After the World Cup there has been a great wailing and gnashing of teeth about every player that leaves for the overseas dosh. And everytime we seem to have someone who can slot in and be as good. For example Andy Ellis has busted his ribs and Alby Mathewson is stepping in. Admittedly all Alby has do is be average and he'll fill Ellis' shoes nicely, but you get my point.
And the comebacks are doing quite well thank you. Rokocoko and Weepu were having a grand old time out there.