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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Joseph Romanos on All Black Selection 

Well he's completely hit the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, here are the pieces I like and comments from this opinionated tosser.
The All Blacks winning test matches should be the top priority, but apparently it's not.

There was a time when the best players in the country were selected to represent New Zealand at rugby. That doesn't seem to be the case any more.
Yep. What's the point in sending rugby down the same road that soccer has gone where you have piles of stupid friendlies in the build up to World Cup qualifiers, World Cup games or Euro (insert year here)? Are the tests versus Italy, France, Wales and the Barbarians not important? Why are we going there? Is it just to make money? If so then why not cancel the NPC and send them on a 30 game tour of the world where they play 15 tests against anybody who'll have them? If it's to develop players for a competition 3 years from now when most of the guys going on tour won't make the starting 15 anyway then what's the point?
When Graham Henry and co named their 32 (!) players for the four-match northern hemisphere tour, Cantabrians Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens were omitted. Everyone in New Zealand rugby, including the selectors, knew that they were the best halfback and first five-eighth respectively in the country, but they were dumped because they were too old. Both turned 31 this year.
If Marshall and Merthens are still the best halfback and first five in the country come the next World Cup then shouldn't they be picked? If we simply drop them now based on age how will we ever know?
Alex Wyllie once said that selectors shouldn't drop a player until they had someone better to replace him.
Couldn't agree more Grizz.
In 2000, new All Black coach Wayne Smith introduced Ron Cribb, Troy Flavell, Doug Howlett, Leon MacDonald, Jason O'Halloran, Bruce Reihana, Mark Robinson, Gordon Slater, Greg Somerville and Filo Tiatia to the All Blacks.

In 2001, Smith and John Mitchell, when he replaced Smith, created 17 new All Blacks – Ben Blair, Jerry Collins, Carl Hayman, Dave Hewett, David Hill, Marty Holah, Chris Jack, Richie McCaw, Simon Maling, Aaron and Nathan Mauger, Paul Miller, Mark Ranby, Roger Randle, Jason Spice, Dion Waller and Tom Willis. For the end-of-year tour in 2001, 36 percent of Mitchell's team were new All Blacks and Christian Cullen, Taine Randell and Jeff Wilson were dropped.

On it went in 2002. This time Mitchell created 16 new All Blacks, some of whom had dubious claim to such status – Daniel Braid, Sam Broomhall, Steven Devine, Sam Harding, Andrew Hore, Regan King, Danny Lee, Keith Lowen, Joe McDonnell, Keven Mealamu, Bradley Mika, Keith Robinson, Rodney So'oialo, Paul Steinmetz, Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock.

Mitchell was evidently still building for the future. Never mind that a test in England was lost and another, in France, drawn, by a second-rate All Black "test" team, and that the All Blacks are the shop window of New Zealand rugby, the main attraction for the public and sponsors.
Again great point. If the All Blacks are supposedly the shop window for New Zealand rugby and this great marketing tool for the NZRFU and our greatest revenue earner then surely it will only do damage long term to have them scratching out a dodgy record on Northern Hemisphere tours and losing to Australia every second test and to average South African teams?
In 2003, all the building for the future came to little because New Zealand lost in the World Cup semi-finals. Good, experienced players were omitted from the World Cup squad and the new boys didn't deliver. Coach Mitchell had the temerity to say that the young players had not responded to the pressure. Never mind – New Zealand had a young team and would be great in four years' time.

Now we have yet another new coach also intent on "building for the future". How about respecting the All Black jersey and simply picking the best players to represent our country?
This is one of my biggest bug bears. As soon as one World Cup is over the NZRFU and the appointed coach instantly start thinking about the next World Cup.

Take a look at the All Black team in the first game after their awful 1991 World Cup where they played the World XV (1992): G.Cooper, J.Kirwan, V.Tuigamala, W.Little, F.Bunce, G.Fox, G.Bachop, R.Turner, M. Jones/A Pene, M.Cooksley, I.Jones, P.Henderson, R.Loe, S.Fitzpatrick, S.McDowell

flash to the final of the 1995 World Cup v South Africa: G.Osborne, J.Wilson/M.Ellis, J.Lomu, F.Bunce, W.Little, A.Mehrtens, G.Bachop, Z.Brooke, J.Kronfeld, R.Brooke, I.Jones, M.Brewer/J.Joseph, O.Brown, S.Fitzpatrick, C.Dowd/R.Loe

That's 10 players from the 16 used v the World XV who don't take the field 4 years later. But that's about what you would expect if you look at the missing names. Retirement, injury and lack of form or not up to it in the first place explaining most of the changes. So just 6 players stuck around for both games.

Let's look at the next case. Less than one month later unsurprisingly basically an identical team takes to the field against Australia at Eden Park. The All Blacks were fantastic at the WC and were unlucky to lose the final and it was only 28 days later so naturally there aren't going to be many changes (and there was only about 1 or 2).

So the real story lies in looking at the 1996 team to play Samoa in the first game of the international season: C.Cullen, J.Wilson, J.Lomu, F.Bunce, S.McLeod, A. Mehrtens, J.Marshall, Z.Brooke, J.Kronfeld, R.Brooke, I.Jones, M.Jones, O.Brown, S.Fitzpatrick, C.Dowd

And then at the team to open the World Cup campaign in 1999 in England v Tonga: J.Wilson, T.Umaga, J.Lomu, C.Cullen, A.Ieremia/Gibson, A.Mehrtens, J.Marshall/Kelleher, T.Randell, J.Kronfeld, R.Brooke, N.Maxwell/R.Willis, R.Thorne, K.Meeuws/Dowd, A.Oliver, C.Hoeft

7 players from the 15 v Samoa are gone from the run on team in 1999 which features 11 new players if you include guys who made appearances off the bench.

First match of the 2000 international season v Tonga: C.Cullen/Howlett, T.Umaga, J.Lomu, A.Ieremia, P.Alatini, T.Brown, J.Marshall, T.Randell/Tiatia, J.Kronfeld/Robertson, T.Flavell, T.Blackadder, R.Thorne, G.Somerville/Meeuws, M.Hammett/Oliver, C.Dowd

And to the first game of the 2004 World Cup: M.Muliaina, D.Howlett, J.Rokocoko/MacDonald, T.Umaga/Nonu, D.Carter, C.Spencer, J.Marshall, J.Collins/So'oialo, R.McCaw/Holah, C.Jack, B.Thorn, R.Thorne, G.Somerville, K.Mealamu/Hammett, D.Hewett/Meeuws

13 players from the 20 used in 2000 now no longer in the side for 2004. With 14 new players in amongst the 21 players in 2004.

I think the point I'm trying to make here is that there's little point building for something so far out when outstanding players will come along in the year or two before every world cup who knockout guys you have been grooming or whatever the hell it was that you're doing to them. On top of that some of the guys you are picking will lose form, prove to be crap afterall, get injured, bored, go to Japan or Europe, or even retire.

So why not just do it like we've always done in the past. Pick the best teams we can for 3 years and then 1 year out from the WC sort out who will still be around, who isn't playing up to scratch anymore and who should be bang on the money in a year.

People may also notice how we tend to go into World Cups after hammering the crap out of all and sundry in the lead up, with the exception of 1991 where we went in with too many passed it players. Unfortunately I think that one cockup has clouded thinking ever since and we have gone too far to the opposite extreme where anybody about 29 or older is a goneburger.

We have also had a tendency to bottle it in the big games as teams who appeared to be weaker than us worked out how to combat our one-dimensional game plans and took us down town, platinum hits bitch! Aussie in 2001 were a better team pure and simple, South Africa in 1995 were not but closed us down and were inspired, France in 1999 pulled a white rabbit out of their arse in one of their greatest performances in their history and Australia in 2003 clinically choked the life out of us.

Theres really little you can do to combat losses like those. The All Blacks will always only be one of about 5 teams that can take out the World Cup. And if they don't have their game plan precisely sorted out it won't matter who they have on the pitch. Not to mention if the opposition is inspired or just plain better than us.

So ditch the (thus far) resultless 3.5 year buildups for christsakes!

And Romanos hammers home some more great points:
Colin Meads was 31 after the All Blacks toured Britain unbeaten in 1967. If he had been retired by "forward-thinking" selectors, he would have missed four years of test rugby.

If selectors had been concerned solely with age, two of our finest centres, Joe Stanley and Frank Bunce, would never had been All Blacks. Stanley was 29 when he was first chosen in 1986. He went on to play 27 tests and become a great player. Bunce, another classy centre, was even older – 30 – when Laurie Mains selected him in 1992. Yet he had six seasons in the All Blacks and played 55 tests.

Fitzpatrick himself turned 31 in 1994. Modern thinking would have had him dropped, depriving Fitzy, and New Zealand, of his services for another 36 tests. When New Zealand takes the field against another country, it is called a test for a good reason – it is our best against their best. By not choosing the best players available, we are demeaning the status of test rugby and dishonouring the great players who strove so hard to earn the right to wear the All Black jersey in decades past.
And here again:
There's too much emphasis on developing talent. With so much top rugby around now – the Super 12, NPC and up to a dozen tests a year – players need only a season to gain the experience that would have taken them four or five years previously.
---For the sake of balance and to at least provide some logical reason why we should expect to see more players in the All Black test teams than we did in the past...

In years gone by the All Blacks generally played 5-9 tests each year. In recent years it's been more like 10-14.

1985: 5 tests (5 other games)
86: 6 (6)
87: 9 (3)
88: 5 (10)
89: 7 (12)
90: 7 (6)
91: 9 (7)
92: 9 (12)
93: 7 (11)
94: 6 (0)
95: 12 (5)
96: 10 (4)
97: 12 (5)
98: 7 (0)
99: 12 (1)
2000: 10 (0)
01: 10 (2)
02: 11 (0)
03: 14 (0)
04: 11 (1)

So it's highly likely that drops in form or injuries will be more prevalent thus increasing player turnover. Another reason is that since rugby has turned professional there is more money in the sport and so teams can financially afford to take bigger touring squads with them. Along with that the replacement laws have changed which allow several reserves to take the field. If a coach can take 3 halfbacks instead of 2 then it's likely he will choose to do so and you can't really blame him. But some common sense should surely prevail. Having a massive touring squad must make team morale and cohesiveness much harder to ahieve. It only takes a few guys to grizzle about how they are only going to get 30 minutes on the paddock in a month or something similar to cause a bit of strife.

4 props, 2 hookers, 3 locks, 5 loosies, 2 halfbacks, 2 first fives, 3 2nd five/centres, 3 wingers and 2 fullbacks should just about cover 4 bloody game shouldn't it? Instead we have another 6 on top of that.

In the 9 years from 1986-1993 the All Blacks played 67 tour matches. In the 11 years since they have played just 18 tour matches and only 4 in the last 7 years. That's astonishing. Instead now we use full tests in the Northern Hemisphere to develop players and the Super 12 has basically taken the place of long tours of South Africa, Australia, Argentina and Europe (North America often included along the way).

Back to the latest tour though. What good is it going to do to the 3rd ranked prop or halfback to have a look at the All Blacks close up when it's 3 years out from the next World Cup? What the hell is he going to remember that's going to make him win the WC for NZ. I can't even remember what happened in the second 30 minutes of my football game two days ago. Hell there's a 90% chance he won't even be in the team for the big games in 3 years time. But at least he'll have a few hardearned AB jumpers.


Great piece by Romanos. And nice analysis by you. Completely agree with everything said.

Where were Carter, Miliiana, Mealamu, Rokocoko even 2 years ago??? They all went to the Cup last year.
Cheers xman, started out expecting it would take me an hour tops and it took over 2 hours to do the whole lot.

Wonder what the new pandasport site will look like. Probably worse than the old one.

Hope there's a change of personell in the forum though. Some of those fuckers need to take early retirement from the internet.
This is a top site. Really enjoy having a read of you and your mates articles. Tried to comment at work today...but cant cos its blocked...can only read there. So expect all my comments to cum after hours.

Probably needs a bit more of the others posting though and less of me.

sweatepz might be getting the boot pretty soon. One post in several months!!!

Come on guys!

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