Last Week’s Legacy
If we were to draw conclusions from the quarter finals, its that “out-and-out groundhogs” playing at seven proved hugely important in getting the right result. This was due in part to the interpretation of the referees and in particular the games on the bottom half of the draw.
Owens allowed Argentina a lot of leeway in slowing down ball to let their committed defence constantly reorganize, though he did penalize more throughout the game, which told hugely on the score-board as Weepu punished the Pumas.
Bryce Lawrence’s allowance of complete mayhem in the breakdown between Australia and South Africa ended providing one a most unusual result given the pattern of the game in general.
In the first half, Pocock got involved with everything. A combination of timing, ridiculous, strength and balance and a good sense of where to be in defence meant that he was constantly turning over poorly protected South African ball, both legally, by being the first man to the breakdown and illegally, by sticking his hands (and head) into the middle of fully developed rucks and getting away with it.
In the second, South Africa reacted by just piling over the top of the ball, diving into ruck situations desperately to protect from the marauding Zimbabwean, and still Lawrence didn’t blow anything up!
Opensides and refereeing
This Sunday sees the two best 7s in the world go head to head (with no offence to the impressive Warburton). Perhaps the key question is not whether pretender to the throne Pocock can take out the be-niggled Sur Ruchie, but how the referee will police the game.
The man in the middle on Sunday morning is Craig Joubert, who was fairly lenient with the Welsh against Ireland. Sure, they were penalized repeatedly in the opening quarter of the game but ultimately they were able to slow Ireland’s ball for the whole game.
It stands entirely to reason then that Joubert will continue in the same vein, meaning that support at rucktime from those doing the fabled “unseen work” (step forward, Brad Carnegie Thorn) will be of utmost importance. If this is the case, the Mole feels that the dynamism of the Kiwis at rucktime will give them the upper hand, even if Sur Ruchie’s ongoing trouble with his foot means that he might not be 100%.
On the other hand, there is a chance that after much commentary from the press, especially after the Boks vs Wobblies match, Paddy O’Brien may have had a word with referees quietly reminding them to a bit more refereeing at ruck-time. In which case, it will be a case of whose cloak of invisibility will work better!
Out in the backs
Aside from the tussle at the breakdown, both teams entire the semi-final with underwhelming strength at number ten. Aaron Cruden has been thrust into the biggest game of his life from holidays in Fiji, while public enemy no.1 Quade Cooper has been racking a lot more colds than hots of late. His performance against the Boks arguably topped his stinker in Auckland in this years Tri-Nations for out and out catastrophe.
More interesting are the in form backs. Grey Man retains his place again after a great game against the hard-running de Villiers and one cannot help but feel that Deans may have been lining up this tussle against Ma’a Nonu all along.
We need to talk about Sunny Bull
Nonu and Smith have been in fine form but the weak link will be Superstar Sunny Bull Wullyums, so the Mole is not surprised to see the more solid and understated Kahui come into the team. Kahui had a fine showing in the pool and the Mole is glad to see him return to fold.
In this semi, we would be surprised to see more than 2 tries, and in all likelihood, it will probably be less. Against Argentina, he provided some important moments, but he also did the Sunny Bull thing every time he got the ball, which is try to throw a ridiculous offload, often blindly. A turnover in broken possession could be difference in a tight game like this with the counterattacking firepower the Aussies have (Two of their tries in the Tri-Nations decider were scored from 50 plus yards out.) Then again, they have their own bad options issue with Cooper.
Elsewhere the Mole is expecting big games from both kickers, Weepu and O’Connor. While both haven’t been main-man kickers throughout their international careers, both have stepped up the plate (even though the Mole cast aspersions about the Aussies lack of place kicker earlier). O’Connor is a phenomenal player for his age and his size, neither of which stop him from being fearsomely strong. Weepu, we feel will embrace the spotlight rather than hide from it ala Slade.
This is a tough one to call. New Zealand have a lot of problems, but there is a good chance these issues are being overstated. Their record at Eden Park is frightening and the Aussies are blessed to still be in the tournament after last week. While doubts linger, we’re predicting the NZ pack to earn this victory the hard way, by playing the way they did in the second half in Brisbane this year, with Weepu slotting the kucks as nucussury. NZ by 5.
NZ XV: Woodcock, Mealamu, O. Franks, Whitelock, Thorn, Kaino, Sur Ruchie, Read, Weepu, Cruden, Kahui, Nonu, Smith, Jane, Dagg
Replacements: Hore, B. Franks, A. Williams, Vito, Ellis, Donald, Sunny Bull Wullyams
Australia XV: Kepu, Moore, Alexander, Vickerman, Horwill, Elsom, Pocock, Samo, Genia, Cooper, Ioane, McCabe, Ashley-Cooper, O’Connor, Beale
Replacements: Polota-Nau, Slipper, Simmons, McCalman, Burgess, Barnes, Faing’a
Referee: Craig Joubert, 9am, Eden Park