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Where to from here?


Waiting for a delayed charter flight to Rome, where airport staff have gone on strike and they are trying to find a different place for us to land. Just what I need.

The Springboks had already checked into their central city hotel before the All Blacks had checked out. They should feel no need to be scouring the place for left behind sheets of paper detailing the secret keys to beating the Scots this coming Saturday.

If Scotland don’t learn to defend more effectively then it should be two out of two for the Boks.

I’ve just finished reading one of the British papers, which says that Scotland’s performance against the All Blacks was their best in test rugby in two years. Surely not, have they not beaten Australia twice and the Boks once in that time?

They were certainly stubborn in the face of an All Black team that fired only sporadically, but well enough to have the match well under control within half an hour. Even when Scotland closed it back to 12, even when the All Blacks were down to 14 players, you had the feeling there was not going to be a historic outcome. Scotland will have to wait another year for their first win over New Zealand.

If they are to challenge the Springboks they will have to improve their defence. Before the game coach Andy Robinson said they had to rush up well and be aggressive in the tackle and in the collisions. Well they got the first bit right, and the third, maybe, but they were simply too passive in the tackle, and as a consequence left holes that had the All Blacks looking at some stages like they could score a million.

To their credit, the Scots never gave up and managed to score three tries, which no other side has done against New Zealand this year. If they are able to stay in touch with the Boks, they could be dangerous.

They have some tough dudes in their forward pack, and will be bolstered by the return of their world-class prop Euan Murray who missed the All Black game because he doesn’t play on Sundays.

They also have a couple of good attacking wingers in Sean Lamont and Tim Visser, the latter a big Dutch-born speedster with a confident attitude and a knack for scoring tries.

But both are defensively suspect, and the Flying Dutchman was rather easily brushed off by Julian Savea for one of his tries, so again I just think the Boks can do damage by keeping ball in hand and using the likes of JP Pietersen.

It was a good enough start for the All Blacks, although it will come at a cost with Adam Thomson facing a ban for some indiscriminate footwork. It was not exactly vicious, hardly a stomp, but he clearly placed his boot on the head of Scottish flanker Al Strokosch. It was a senseless thing to do, and at a time when he is fighting to stay as an All Black he will probably be banned for the rest of the tour. Strokosch will give evidence in Thomson’s defence, saying he hardly felt it, but they take a dim view of this sort of thing in this part of the world.

The All Blacks' next opponents Italy will hopefully try and be a little more positive than the last time here, when Martin Castrogiovanni spent the entire game trying to destroy every scrum, regardless of who was putting the ball in. In front of a massive 90 000 crowd in Milan, including many watching a test for the first time (including numerous fashionistas, politicians, and soccer stars Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Del Piero) the result was a turgid spectacle and rugby missed a great opportunity.

I have great respect for Nick Mallett, but a hallmark of his era was that Italy played to keep the score respectable. We can only hope for the sake of another huge crowd (70 000 at the famous Stadio Olimpico) that Italy try and play some rugby, and don’t just try and stop the opposition from running up a big score.

I watched the other games with interest.

The Boks had to do it the hard way against an Ireland side missing some of its star veterans, but in a match between two sides below full strength the Boks did well to fight their way back and claim the win. It’s a good start. Given what has happened in the past, you just want to get that first win under the belt and move on.

I’m not quite sure where Australia go to from here (well, London, of course, but you get my drift?) after they were rolled up and smoked by France.

France were good, although they got their first try courtesy of a very blatant/clever piece of cheating by their flanker who held on to the jersey of Dave Dennis and cleared a path for their impressive number 8 Louis Picamoles. In the old days Dennis would have clocked him, but you can’t do it now, and if the ref can’t, doesn’t or doesn’t want to see the jersey pull then you’re stuffed.

But Australia were French toast anyway, their scrum was utterly destroyed and the knives are out again for the coach.

Although rather than Robbie Deans, I’d be asking the questions of Andrew Blades their scrum “guru”. Blades, a former Wallaby, has spent plenty of time in the past criticising others for their scrum work, famously, foolishly, describing All Black Tony Woodcock as a “myth”. He has some work to do tidying up his own back yard now.

Strangely enough Wallaby hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, whose enthusiasm on the field is matched by his positivity, says the Wallabies can “dominate” the England scrum.

I’d have thought England would be licking their lips.


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