Planes, trains and ending on a high note
Two weeks ago it was the plane with no airport to fly into. This time we are stuck on the train to nowhere, motionless on the outskirts of Stroud in Gloucestershire.
One of the engines has broken down, so we are waiting for Thomas the Tank Engine to come and drag us up the line to some point where they will no doubt apologise profusely and ditch us on some poxy out-of-the-way platform miles from London.
The train was an hour late leaving Cardiff for a kick-off, and we had to stop at one point while they cleared a tree off the track.
Of course the Brits being the Brits they are trying to do the 'stiff upper lip' thing and so on, but for us Kiwis on the train the situation has long since got past a joke, and I am ready to throttle the next person who says “mustn’t grumble”.
Anyway, I will provide myself with some occupational therapy and a distraction from this infuriating situation by filing my column for this week.
The weather in Britain has been relentlessly foul, so thankfully, while England and South Africa were splashing around in the rain at Twickenham, we were at least under the roof at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the All Black-Wales game.
Beforehand I was able to watch most of the Twickenham game from the media lounge at the Millennium Stadium, and caught the rest on replay later.
The conditions in London were obviously a major hindrance, and the match was never going to be a great spectacle. It was a day for attritional rugby, with more high kicks than the late show at the Moulin Rouge.
England had their chance to win, but their skipper Chris Robshaw dithered badly over the most crucial decision of his fledging captaincy.
It is often an unwinnable argument as to whether in such a situation you take the points on offer and hope to have one last crack at winning, or throw all the eggs into one basket and go for the tryline.
Of course all the English scribes are adamant it should have been the latter…they would, wouldn’t they…but the implication is that England WOULD have scored from a lineout, when defending the drive is something the Springboks do pretty well.
The bottom line is England took too long to decide, too long to take the kick, and then fluffed their last remaining possession anyway. I somehow don’t think they were ever going to win.
We’ll never ever know, and the bottom line is it’s another test victory on tour for the Springboks.
The positives to come out of it were the way the Bok forwards muscled up. They did really well at lineout, and their forwards carried the ball well. Louw, Vermeulen and Etzebeth were outstanding.
The Boks took their scoring chances too, with some good goalkicking by Pat Lambie, and even if there was a touch of fortune about the try, it was the result of good pressure and well snatched.
The All Blacks again played well enough to have the win in the bag with half an hour to spare, without really putting their foot on Wales' throat and finishing off what looked likely at halftime to become a rout.
They led 23-nil at halftime, after ruthlessly taking their opportunities, either through kicking the penalties on offer or scoring tries, whereas Wales turned down shots at goal and came up with nothing.
Wales were trying to set up their 13-man lineout drive but blew their touch finders and we had to wait until the game was decided to see the sight of almost the entire Welsh team driving the ball over the line.
But after a blitz in the first half, a few niggling injuries crept in, and the AB coaching staff made big changes. It may well have been that they were starting to look ahead to their final test of the year at Twickenham, but it blunted their game and Wales made something of a comeback to “draw” the second half 10-all.
So now just England stands between the All Blacks and an unbeaten year, but I fancy this won’t be easy.
For a start the All Blacks are likely to be without two or three starters, with Dan Carter and Keven Mealamu in doubt with injury and Andrew Hore certain to be banned.
Hore, renowned as a hard but not dirty player, poleaxed the Welsh lock Bradley Davies in the opening minutes of the game. Had it been seen by the officials he would surely have been carded…probably banished altogether, and the All Blacks would have been in real danger of losing their first test to Wales in 59 years.
It was an inexplicable act by Hore, with no obvious provocation and even if it was not his intention to take Davies out of the game altogether, that was the consequence and he will no doubt cop a heavy suspension.
On top of a growing injury list, it was the last thing the All Blacks needed.
So I look forward to the last weekend of the rugby year for us, and at this very point in time I am rather envious of the Boks who are already on their way home.
They have ended the year on a good note…they had to battle hard for all three of their wins on tour, but they got there and got a winning run going to end up second in the IRB rankings and with the potential to improve considerably. More on that next week when I will wrap up the rugby year….probably while waiting for a delayed plane flight.