Loss adds spice to All Blacks tour
A shift in power, or a timely boot in the backside?
That’s the big question after the All Blacks' defeat in the Hong Kong test against the Wallabies – their first in 2010.
Firstly, there are no excuses. This might have had the appearance of an exhibition, played in front of a disappointing crowd of about 25 000, but the rivalry between these teams is such that they both desperately wanted to win it – the All Blacks to keep the foot on the Wallaby throat and force them into a bit more doubt and pain, and the Wallabies of course trying to snap that awful ten-game losing streak.
We know the Aussie sporting psyche pretty well, and we know how they thrive on confidence. The All Blacks didn’t want to give them anything.
But in the end, the Wallabies took it in a desperate, thrilling finish – and they deserved it. There were no get-out-of-jail cards for the All Blacks this time.
The Wallabies started well, and took full advantage of a rusty All Black side. Most of the All Blacks had had little rugby since the Tri-Nations – player welfare being the consideration – but it meant they were sloppy and coughed up too many tries to a Wallaby team that had been in camp for three weeks preparing for this game.
Only poor goalkicking prevented the score from blowing out even further, and the All Blacks had the chance to come back, and did so well enough to put themselves into a position to win the game, which they should have done.
With Dan Carter playing his first game since the last Springbok test, the decision had been made to take him off at 60 minutes. He signalled he wanted five more, but they stuck to their guns and things started to unravel.
Stephen Donald was entrusted with the job of closing it out but under pressure missed a handy shot at goal, and then after the All Blacks had won a turnover deep in their own 22, failed to put the ball out, which allowed the Aussies to counter-attack and put young James O’Connor in for a try that will go down in history, along with his two brilliant sideline conversions that won the match.
Donald will be the scapegoat for this loss, and people will again question his selection ahead of Aaron Cruden and Colin Slade, a decision that appears, despite denials, to have hinged on the injury to goalkicking halfback Piri Weepu.
But to put it all on him would be wrong. The coaching staff need to take the rap for this as well.
There were good aspects to this All Black performance. Notwithstanding Alain Rolland's dreadful control at scrum-time, they managed to get a decisive advantage there. Their loose forwards were fantastic and at times they penetrated the Aussie defence at will.
But they didn’t finish the job off, and the pressure is really on now to bounce back against England this coming weekend.
TRIBUTE TO AN OLD FRIEND
It was a disappointing loss, but for me it was all put into perspective by some news I got on Saturday morning, and I hope it’s OK to use this forum to pay tribute to a friend of mine who died in South Africa a few hours before the test, and to the people who cared for him so wonderfully.
John Mudgeway was an old schoolmate of mine. We played together in a very good school first fifteen, and rowed together in arguably the worst coxed four in the history of the sport.
Mudgie played rep rugby in New Zealand and then club rugby in Wales before moving to Durban in the 1980s, where he became a stalwart member of the High School Old Boys club and a partner for a while in the Cottonfields Bar at Umhlanga.
In 2002 he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, a truly horrible condition that causes the nerves to fail and the muscles to waste away. There is no cure and life expectancy is not long – most die within three years.
With the love and support of his rugby mates and friends in Durban, Mudgie bravely stuck it out for over eight years. He lived with Brett and Michelle who made sure he got the care he needed, and the likes of Craig McIntosh, John Plumtree and many many others in the rugby community rallied to raise funds to support him and secure a future for his son.
He came back to New Zealand late last year, but his Mum died and the cold of the New Zealand winter was too much. So he went back to his beloved Durbs and got two weeks with his son before passing away.
In his heart he was always a Kiwi, but part of his soul is in South Africa. It has been truly amazing to see the support he got, a reminder that rugby is a great game played and followed by great people and I just want to thank all involved for what they did for my pal.