You can’t underestimate a team like Georgia. —Ritchie McCaw
by Roger Childs
Uneven performance but plenty of good play
Back in the 2007 the All Blacks beat Italy 76-14 in the first game and then Portugal 108-13. After that Scotland was subdued 40-0. It was a fantastic pool round for New Zealand who were favoured to win the World Cup. They were the top ranked side and against Italy, a six nation team, much of their play was polished and nearly flawless as backs and forwards combined brilliantly, passed superbly and scored 11 tries.
In 2015 it was not going to be like that. Argentina was always going to be tough, however cricket scores were expected against Namibia and Georgia. It hasn’t happened and Georgia worked hard to keep the All Backs to 43-10. However, seven very good tries were scored by the New Zealanders and the tackling was impressive. Although there were too many knock-on’s and missed passes, it was a good workout.
There are plenty of things to work on and that is probably preferable to winning the early matches with huge scores. Remember that in 2007 we went into the quarter final expecting to roll the French, who had lost to Argentina in their first game. We all know what happened next.
Great first quarter against Georgia
The All Blacks really fired in the first 22 minutes. There were four classy tries:
- Waisake Naholo had been jumping out of his skin at training impatient to take the field in his first match. After one minute he showed his class. Coming in as the extra man, Carter gave him a great pass allowing him to make a speedy run from 55metres out and score by the posts.
- Not to be outdone, Julian Savea showed his strength on the left wing minutes later and bumped off a couple of players to score in the corner.
- Then after 16 minutes, Savea was in again after a wonderful off-load from Sonny Bill Williams.
- The score went to 22-10 when another excellent movement with classy handling was finished off by Keiran Read giving a superb long pass to Dane Coles for a clear run in.
At this stage the All Backs points tally was ahead of the clock and a big score looked on. But there had been mistakes. Naholo, who had a mixed game, spilled the ball forward in the fifth minute, Georgia snapped it up and from a kick through fullback Beka Tsiklauri re-gathered to to score by the posts.
For the 69,000 Cardiff crowd this was this most popular try!
There was no further scoring in the first half as a consequence of
- fierce tackling by the Georgians: not surprising!
- handling errors by the All Blacks which probably cost a couple of tries
- deliberate slowing down tactics by the Georgian forwards who were probably lucky not to lose a man to the bin.
A mixed bag in the second half
Three more tries were scored: two involving Fekitoa. The Highlander centre threw a beautiful long pass to Savea to give him a hat-trick for the match. Then in the 75th minute he showed pace and deception to run in a try from 30 metres out.
There were some great mid field runs from McCaw, Ben Smith and Mealamu, but the Georgian defence was very well organised and snuffed out these attacks. The All Blacks kicked more in this half and generally it wasn’t effective.
Looking on the bright side
Fan expectations were for a big score but Georgia were always going to be tougher than Namibia. The Namibians are mainly part time players whereas the Georgians are mainly professionals many of whom play club rugby in France.
Their forward pack is well regarded and they scrummaged well and contested in the loose. But overall the All Blacks had the better of the scrums, lineouts and breakdowns. Whitelock, Retallick, Read, Coles and McCaw all played well and generally handled and tackled effectively.
There were wayward passes and knock-on’s in the backs but set against this there were plenty of excellent flowing movements which resulted in six tries being scored and some near misses.
Plenty to work on
After 66 minutes there had been 16 handling errors and some of these meant tries were missed. Although there were many superb passes, this basic skill needs more work. Often the passing led to cross-field creep with players on the end being taken into touch. It’s important for back-line movements to be straightened up and Nonu’s skills in this area were missed.
The All Blacks need to eliminate the unforced errors especially the sloppy handling and lack of kicking accuracy. Aaron Smith made a superb run on the left flank in the first half and then kicked it out on the full. Then late in the second half Carter was guilty of putting ball into touch in goal from a penalty.
The way ahead
The Tongan match is likely to see some key players rested like McCaw, Savea and all the Smiths. The likely reserves for the quarter final will all get a run.
It’s going to be France or Ireland in that match and The All Blacks will need to play a tighter more accurate game and have options up their sleeve to vary the play if necessary. Kicking options need to be practised and Dan Carter must work on his goal kicking from wide out.
In 2007 Graham Henry rested key players in the quarter final to his cost; Steve Hansen won’t make the same mistake.