An entertaining, spirited contest
By Roger Childs
71-9 was the sort of final score most pundits expected, but a score of 10-9 after thirty minutes wasn’t. The Namibians are the lowest ranked team in the World Cup tournament, but it didn’t faze them playing the top-of-the-table All Blacks. They are basically an amateur side made of farmers, a dentist an accountant etc., who play rugby in their spare time. However, in the first quarter they looked like polished professionals as they rattled their much vaunted rivals.
To their credit they generally ran ball with the possession they had, and an excellent break early on nearly led to a try. Similarly, late in the second spell only desperate All Black defence prevented a score that would have brought the capacity house down. They also protected their ruck ball effectively and tackled low and hard for much of the match.
Complacency in teams who come up against minnows is hard to combat, however the vigorous, bustling performance of the African team in the first 30 minutes gave the All Blacks a wake-up call. Obviously some stern words from the coaches in the shed at half time gave the New Zealanders the necessary impetus to shape up, and in the second half it was business as usual and the tries flowed.
Avoid the head and neck – not easy!
Much has been written and said about high tackles in the World Cup games affecting the head and neck. The referees are under instructions and when dishing out yellow, and occasional red, cards they are just enforcing the rules. One of the problems for would-be tacklers is when ball carrying opponents duck low or are in the process of falling to the ground.
All Black props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi were given yellow cards for high tackles against players who were dropping down and obviously better tackling techniques is needed. A swinging arm to the head or one hand around the neck must be avoided at all costs. The answer would seem to be going into the tackle with two arms at the same time to enclose the ball carrier. Not always easy in the heat of the moment!
Losing players for 10 minutes against must weaker teams doesn’t matter, however up against the Irish, Japanese, English or Welsh it could turn the game. In the 2015 World Cup final against the Wallabies, the All Blacks conceded 14 points when Ben Smith was yellow carded for an illegal tackle.
Great running rugby for 50 minutes
Once they got into their rhythm the All Blacks played their characteristic fast, open game and always seemed to have extra players on hand to sustain attacking movements. In all there were 11 classy tries. This was a game when front line players like Kieran Read, Richie Mo’hunga and Beauden Barrett were rested, and most of the rest of the squad got a run.
Everyone on the bench got on the field in the second half and two of the replacements featured in what many are calling the “try of the tournament” so far. Third All Black half back, Brad Weber, had a great match demonstrating quick, flat passing and speedy running from the base of the scrum. Late in the game he executed an off-load behind his back to T.J. Perneara who ran twenty metres before diving in against the corner flag to score a spectacular try.
Once the All Blacks got into top gear it was obvious that no player in the 31 man squad would be out of place against the sterner competition to come. Particularly pleasing was the performance of Jordie Barrett playing at first five for the first time. He gained in confidence as the game wore on and his slick passing, speedy running and pinpoint kicking were first class. After missing the first conversion and having the second one charged down, he nailed the next nine, a number of which were from wide out.
The Namibian game was a great spectacle for the crowd and despite the substantial winning margin, the efforts of the part-time south-west African side, especially in the first half were much appreciated by all who watched. In a wonderful gesture after the match, both teams stood together in a line and bowed low to the delighted crowd on all four sides.
The final match in Pool B against the Italians is next and then it’s on to the quarter finals. The fabulous performances by the Brave Blossoms Japanese team in winning three out of three so far, have thrown out predictions of who the All Blacks will play in the quarter finals. It will probably be either Ireland or Japan. Pre-tournament suggestions that it would be Scotland have gone out the window.