Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NOT AGAIN! All Blacks Cup dream falling apart

Worrying signs as big day looms

Maybe another World Cup victory for New Zealand just isn’t meant to be. It was thought only an injury crisis of catastrophic proportions would prevent the All Blacks from restoring natural order to the rugby world this month by storming to glory on home soil.

Well, that doomsday scenario has arrived.

First Dan Carter, then Mils Muliaina. And while the third star in New Zealand’s triple crown isn’t out yet, you get the feeling it’s not a case of if, but when captain courageous Richie McCaw breaks down again with his foot ‘niggle’.

The apparent saviour to Graham Henry’s playmaking woes, Colin Slade, has also departed thanks to injury.
Slade didn’t exactly have the Kiwi public brimming with confidence, but he was much better than the next cab off the rank - Stephen Donald, who’s come in from the cold to find himself on the bench.

Go through the All Blacks defeats of the past two years, bar this year’s loss to Australia, and you’ll find one constant: epic errors from the Bath-bound No.10.

Such is Donald’s reputation, even Kiwi psychologists are warning fans to mentally prepare for a “shock” loss in Sunday’s semi-final against Australia.

Henry finally realised he was flogging a dead horse when he left the 22-Test pivot out of his World Cup training squad earlier this year. So somewhere down the line you sense he must have seriously annoyed the rugby gods if he’s relying on Donald to steer his side home in the final 20 minutes against the Aussies.
Obviously, the coach still has one more frontline fly-half to fall over in Aaron Cruden before he scrapes the bottom of the No.10 barrel.

Yet four years after their worst World Cup performance, has it really come to this: a 22-year-old lightweight rookie, whose preparation for the biggest game of his life includes ‘skateboarding, a few beers and planning a trip to Disneyland’?

Much has been made of the Eden Park factor where the Aussies haven’t won since 1986. A damning statistic but one that conveniently avoids the obvious - the All Blacks aren’t storming home as much as they are hobbling.

The Aussies have issues of their own, namely Quade Cooper. But when you have in-form players such as Will Genia and David Pocock willing to pick up the slack, the Wallabies’ woes pale in comparison to New Zealand’s.

Piri Weepu offers the Kiwis a glimmer of hope - providing the stocky scrum-half can say on the park for the full 80 minutes - while there also remains a core bunch of veterans in Brad Thorn, Kieran Read, Keven Mealamu, Jerome Kaino and Conrad Smith, who Henry will be hoping can haul his battered side over the line.

But it’s a far cry from the unbeatable line-up he trotted out against Tonga a month ago.

Prior to the showpiece, after selecting one of the most experienced All Blacks’ squads ever, ‘Ted’ was quick to emphasise how he thought that experience would be key to finally breaking the Cup curse.
Time to see if the wily old coach was right.