No first-time starter needs this kind of pressure

At times, even a polished outfit like the All Blacks can get it wrong. When the team was picked for the game against Argentina on Saturday, a number of second choice players were chosen, in order to get them match-ready and also to establish the depth that the team will need as it builds towards the next World Cup in Japan in 2019.

The major change was the presence of Richie Mo’unga as standoff, taking over from the man acknowledged as the best at that position, Beauden Barrett. Thus, there was tremendous pressure of Mo’unga, more so given that Barrett had put in an excellent performance in the previous outing, against Australia, dominating the game and scoring 30 of the team’s 40 points.

This was Mo’unga’s first start in a Test; he had only come on as a substitute in one earlier Test. That was the depth of his experience when he took the field.
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All Blacks win because they have developed a winning culture

For the last 16 years, New Zealand has been winning the annual Bledisloe Cup rugby union competition against Australia, with 2002 being the last time they lost. It is a symbol of rugby supremacy, and for the two countries involved the next best after the World Cup itself.

Over the last few years, every time the games approach, the Australian media hype up the chances of their national team and for the uninitiated, it would appear to be some kind of equal contest. But in the end, New Zealand always runs away with the trophy, though some games can indeed be close.

Last year, for example, New Zealand came to Sydney for the first game as usual. By half-time, despite predictions of a close game being in the offing, New Zealand was ahead 40-6. The game ended in a 54-34 win to the All Blacks.
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All Blacks keep their calm – and the World Cup

In the end, just the points that Dan Carter scored off his boot would have sufficed for New Zealand to beat Australia in the final of the Rugby World Cup. The final scoreline was 34-17 and Carter got 19 of those.

One of the truly great standoffs world rugby has seen, Carter only missed one kick on the night; he converted four penalties, kicked a drop-goal and converted two of the three tries that the All Blacks scored. It was a truly mature performance, with the No 10 kicking astutely, defending with great courage and never panicking when it looked like Australia were getting close to levelling the scores. (He has played better games; for instance, in the second Test against the British and Irish Lions in 2005, he scored more than 30 points as New Zealand won 48-18.)
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Australia can surprise the Kiwis in the final

It is doubtful whether many people expected Australia to lose to Argentina in the second semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. There was a period last year when this could have happened, a time when the Wallabies were being described as the Wobblies, but under the new coach, Michael Cheika, things seem to have changed.

But the scoreline — 29-15 — flattered Australia. The last try that blew out the score came off a forward pass from Drew Mitchell to Adam Ashley-Cooper, a pass that went unnoticed by referee Wayne Barnes. But that is not surprising because Barnes does not seem to know how to spot a forward pass. He has form in this regard.
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All Blacks fans, don’t forget what happened in 2003

No doubt, all New Zealand rugby supporters are over the moon with the way their team entered the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup, transforming themselves at one stroke from favourites to red-hot raging favourites.

Many people are, however, forgetting ahead of the semi-final clash against South Africa that this is not the first time New Zealand have been in this position. Hark back to 2003 and an eerily similar situation presents itself.

That year, after a long hiatus, New Zealand regained the Bledisloe Cup from Australia. The team had a new coach, John Mitchell, who, after seeing the success of the Auckland Blues in the Super Rugby competition, decided to structure the national team around four players who won the title for the Blues.
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New Zealand finally gets a monkey off its back

THE Shaky Isles have finally got a monkey off their back by winning the rugby world cup title again. They won the first, held in their own country, in 1987, and have been knocked out at various stages of the tournament ever since.

Due to the series of losses, they have been accused of choking. I’m sure it won’t take long for the next diatribe to emerge – that they choke whenever they play in this tournament away from home.

The manner in which New Zealand won was strange; they were defending for a better part of the game and their flair was totally missing.
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Wayne Barnes proves that incompetence will help one make progress

ENGLISHMAN Wayne Barnes has earned a reputation for refereeing bloopers, continuing the trend he set in the World Cup rugby tournament of 2007 when he awarded France a try from a blatant forward pass.

That try helped France to knock out tournament favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals. Barnes does not appear to have improved much – at the ongoing tournament, which concludes on Sunday, he denied Wales a try conversion when the ball had clearly gone between the uprights.

This was in a pool game with South Africa and as Wales lost the game by a point, they certainly had reason to feel cheated.
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Australia should be grateful this was not the final

AUSTRALIA has one reason to be grateful after last night’s humiliation at the hands of the All Blacks in the world cup rugby union tournament – this was not the final.

According to the draw, Australia was expected to come through the pool stages on top of its pool, play Wales/Samoa/Fiji in the quarter-finals, England or France in the semi-finals, and meet New Zealand in the final.

That would have been a real blockbuster for the organisers given the fact that the tournament is being hosted in New Zealand.
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Wales deserved to lose

THERE were great expectations of Wales after they made it to the World Cup rugby semi-finals and came up against France.

Today they lost a match they should have won. The scoreline was 9-8 in favour of France. And in the process they illustrated one fundamental fact of the knockout stage of the World Cup – you also need some intelligence to win these games.

For all the playmaking it did, Wales should have gone home with a final in the bag, despite playing with 14 players for 62 of the 80 minutes. France did nothing of note, they played a waiting game and made a couple of line breaks.
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Why is Wayne Barnes allowed to referee rugby games?

During the last World Cup rugby tournament in France, Englishman Wayne Barnes ensured that tournament favourites New Zealand would be thrown out at the quarter-final stage by allowing a French try that was scored off a blatant forward pass.

And this wasn’t one of those line-ball decisions – there was a difference of about two metres between the two French players who exchanged the pass.

Now Barnes has done it again, denying Wales a chance of defeating the reigning champions, South Africa, at the 2011 championships.
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