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Saturday, December 17, 2005


International Teams: 2006: the year of the blackout

Original Source: Reuters

New Zealand stood astride 2005 like a black-clad rugby colossus, sweeping all before them in unprecedented dominance of the global game.

In winning 11 of their 12 Test matches, the All Blacks completed a series whitewash of the British and Irish Lions, reclaimed the Tri Nations title, retained the Bledisloe Cup and finished off with a Grand Slam European tour.

Flyhalf Dan Carter was rightly acclaimed the sport's best player by both the International Rugby Board and the players' union while Graham Henry was unsurprisingly named coach of the year.

It was all fitting reward for a team playing a brand of high-speed, high-intensity, high-skill rugby at which the rest of the world could only marvel.

However, New Zealand's other notable victory this year, securing hosting rights for the 2011 rugby World Cup, was the wrong sort of black mark for the game.

After years of lip-service about the need to expand rugby's horizons, the people representing the traditional powers chose to ignore the claims of Japan and the chance to move the event to Asia for the first time.

The decision, made by an IRB council weighted ridiculously in favour of the main European and southern hemisphere nations, was widely criticised.

On the pitch, New Zealand deserved everything they got.

They began their year with a 91-0 destruction of Fiji, a warm-up for the Lions series that obviously did the job.

The Lions, with England's World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward, arrived in New Zealand seeking only their second series win. Despite travelling with their biggest-ever squad and an army of coaching and back-up staff they never looked remotely capable of matching the heroics of 1971.

Some of Woodward's selections were baffling but there was bad luck too when captain Brian O'Driscoll was dumped out of the series in the first minute of the first Test by a controversial spear tackle that dogged All Black captain Tana Umaga for the rest of the year.

New Zealand won the first test 21-3 and then really reached the heights in the second as Carter produced a consummate all-round display to score 33 points in a 48-18 victory.

The clean sweep was duly completed but the All Black procession was jolted in their opening Tri Nations match when South Africa inflicted a 22-16 defeat in Cape Town, their only loss of the year.

Three more wins, however, secured the Tri Nations title.

The All Blacks arrived in Europe to mark the centenary of their first tour with Henry claiming a Grand Slam was secondary to developing a squad for the 2007 World Cup.

True to his word he used 30 different starters in opening wins over Wales and Ireland. Only against England, in a titanic Twickenham battle, did he feel the need to field his best team.

After all the excitement generated by their quicksilver backs, it was defensive obduracy that won the day against the world champions as, down to 14 men for the last 23 minutes, they held out for a 23-19 win.

Their second slam, 27 years after the first, was completed against Scotland but for the modern All Blacks fan the achievement will become a mere footnote if the team fail to follow up by winning the 2007 World Cup.

It was also a memorable year for Wales, whose fans regained their pride and whose team rediscovered their ability to play the sort of exciting rugby that was the hallmark of their glory days of the early 1970s.

Wales won the Six Nations for the first time since 1994 and the Grand Slam for the first time in 27 years but it was the effervescent, exciting nature of their play that gladdened the heart.

Their astonishing 24-18 victory over France in Paris featured one of the sport's great comebacks and the Grand Slam decider against an Ireland team who had also won their first three games produced an atmosphere that will live long in the hearts of the 72,000 at the Millennium Stadium.

England struggled as new coach Andy Robinson battled to overcome the loss of many of his World Cup stalwarts.

Defeats by Wales, Ireland and France left them an unaccustomed fourth in the Six Nations, though the green shoots of recovery were evident in November with victories over Australia and Samoa.

Australia signed off with a defeat in Cardiff that represented their eighth in nine games, led to the sacking of coach Eddie Jones and left a cloud over the future of captain George Gregan, who overhauled former England prop Jason Leonard to become the game's most capped player with 118 appearances.

New Zealand's Canterbury Crusaders won the last Super 12 title - it expands to Super 14 next year - beating the NSW Waratahs in Christchurch to take the honours for the fifth time.


Just about the only thing one remembers nowadays is who won the last Web Ellis Cup.
Gone is the talk of the "'55 Springboks" or the "'76 All Blacks" etc. - everything just becomes a blur.
Will we ever see proper tours like the 2005 Lions again?
The Lions tour every 4 years. Going back to the tour of NZ earlier this year, the interwest was incredible - much more than anything I can remember since the last World Cup in Sydney. Without the slightest doubt another similar tour to NZ would be a sell-out.

That was the point I was trying to make - that I long for more tours like the Lions and the others of old.  
Pity that "reclaimimg the 3 nations" sounds much easier than it actually was- but an awesome year by the AB's congrats  
Well is seems that the Grim Reaper has visited this site as well- just the indomitable Rasputin posting away- Pa & The Scottish Lass also not giving us the breakdown on the cricket ;-), hope you guys are doing fine

Damn- Liverpool lost- that would have been pretty special as well.
yep not too many folk around. Hoping to post a cricket related "mini-essay" soon!  
Sorry, a bit long and off topic, but hopefully interesting to y'all:

Things are looking pretty grim in the cricket, but this particular cloud has a silver lining. That silver lining is the relative ages of the two squads. Looking at the Australian team, the oldest player is Shane Warne, at 36, and the youngest is left arm swing bowler Nathan Bracken, at 28. Bracken is one of only two players in their 20s in the team, the other being Brett Lee, who recently turned 29.

By contrast, the oldest South African in this match is Shaun Pollock, at 32, with de Villiers the youngest at 21 (he turns 22 in February).

South Africa will probably next play a home and away series against Australia in 2009.

By then, Ntini and Nel will both be 32, and probably still playing. In fact the only member of the team likely to have retired will be Pollock himself, unless he does a McGrath and gains a new lease in life. Smith will be on the verge of 29, Rudolph 28, Kallis 34, Gibbs 35 and Boucher 33. De Villiers will be 25, going on 26. Provided there are no internal crises (yes, I suppose we should not rule those out), these should all still be in the team, provided some brilliant youngsters haven’t bumped some of them out of the team.

Zondeki will hopefully be an established test player by then, a good foil to Ntini and Nel. Johan Botha will hopefully have been given an extended run in the squad, and will hold up the one end as a useful spinner. Maybe Rudolph will also have established himself as a more than stop-gap leggie.

But what about Australia? Warne and McGrath will probably have one last tilt in next season’s Ashes series, and then pack it in. Hayden, Langer and Gilchrist will retire in quick succession after that.

So it will be a host of names South Africans may not now have heard of who will represent Australia the next time we play them in 2009.

Now one should never under-estimate the Australians. They may not exactly be great at pushing youngsters into the test team, but certainly even the older guys look the finished article once they eventually get into the team. Hussey looks an excellent player, who could be doing great things for Australia for another six years. And they have some good batsmen coming through the ranks: Jaques, Rogers and Clarke (who has already had a good run in the team).

However one should also never under-estimate the importance of McGrath and Warne in the success of this team. They both have that x-factor: the ability to get the crucial wickets at important times. A batsman is never sure of kicking on to a big score while these two are still in the attack.

Also never under-estimate the boost to the confidence that a match-winning attack gives to its own team’s batting line-up. Batsmen who know their bowlers will bowl them out of most holes, are able to bat with freedom and self-belief; by contrast poor bowling attacks put immense pressure on their own batsmen.

Over the next few years, Brett Lee will have to learn to bowl without the comfort of a Warne or a McGrath to knock over the wickets at the other end. He may have a McGill to help him for a while, but he is also no spring chicken and will also in all likelihood have retired by 2009. The likes of Tait, Bracken and maybe Watson will all have to improve immensely in that period: not impossible, but unlikely to loom as large in cricket mythology as McGrath and Warne have done.

Older South Africans will remember how the ageing Transvaal “mean machine” dominated domestic cricket during the 1980s. However its subsequent decline and fall was as palpable and overwhelming as its rise and dominance had been.

It may be a bit fanciful to expect or hope that Australian cricket will decline and fall in the same way, but the Transvaal story, as well as the decline of the West Indies in the same period, give good warnings that the fall, when it comes, can be lengthy and painful, if not addressed early.

All things being equal, 2009 will represent South Africa’s best opportunity for a series victory over Australia since the 1960s. To ensure we don’t spoil this opportunity, it is important that our cricket authorities start preparing now, to ensure we have the best crack possible at glory when the time comes.

They need to do the following:

1) Ensure the six-team, strength vs strength set-up for domestic cricket is maintained. Only that way will we develop the depth necessary to ensure plenty of quality for selectors to choose from, and to keep the pressure on the test incumbents.
2) Keep a settled test team, but reward good, sustained achievers at domestic level with call-ups and give them the opportunities to establish themselves once they are chosen (exclude the likes of Dippenaar and McKenzie, who have not shown the right temperament for test cricket). There should be no cabals of “untouchables” in the test team.
3) Start grooming future test spinners for action now. Give the likes of Botha and Werner Coetzee everything they need to grow as spinners.
4) To this end, ensure that spinners are constantly coming through the ranks, by making it obligatory that at least 20% of overs at representative levels (u19 and below) have to be bowled by spinners. Also have this rule for all domestic 20-over games.
5) Ensure that the wickets used in provincial cricket are of excellent quality. Home teams should be severely punished for preparing “result” or poor wickets (we can start by banning Willowmoore Park in Benoni)
6) And last, but not least, run a clean, well-administered ship, free from controversy.
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