Australia 22, Wales 19: Enter the Dragon? Or maybe not…

The Welsh Dragon was close to roaring Saturday in a place known as a “Land Down Under,” (Danger, cheesy video link) as their match with Australia teetered back-and-forth like a prize fight in the final quarter of the game.

The current Six Nations champs, the Welsh have looked incredibly strong in recent matches, reaching the 2011 Rugby World Cup semifinals only to lose 9-8 to France; and winning their third Six Nations title in six years. Their tour of Australia has been no different.

Mistakes turned out to be the name of the game for Wales throughout the first 60 minutes as each time Wales started to drive they’d get hit with a penalty, or knock the ball forward. Australia was able to capitalize on many of those penalty kick attempts.

In fact, much of the game was based around penalty kicks, in a stark contrast to the All Blacks-Ireland tryfest. Australia’s flyhalf Barrick Barnes traded shots with Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny for much of the first half before Welsh #8 Ryan Jones took advantage of Wales’ attack to score the game’s first try, and thanks to a successful Halfpenny conversion Wales held onto a 16-12 momentary lead.

Because shortly after the game resumed Australia responded with their own try from centre Rob Horne, which had to be confirmed by the TV Monitoring Official. Barnes missed the conversion kick, which left Australia with a precarious one point lead, 17-16.

In the last ten minutes of the match, Wales and Australia traded the lead as each team scored penalty goals, with Australia holding onto to the win.

While Australia did take the series 3-0, all three of the Wallabies’ wins were close – the largest margin being 8 points in the first match in Brisbane. This should be taken more as a sign of Wales’ continued positive team development than it is of Australia taking it easy on their visitors from the North.

Do the All Blacks Have an Unfair Advantage in the Tri Nations?

According to a recent report on Scrum, South African Springbok head coach, and overworked mouthpiece, Peter De Villiers, hinted that the New Zealand All Blacks have an advantage over Australia and the Springboks.  Not that they are a better team, but the referees, the Rugby Unions and probably the International Rugby Board are all part of a conspiracy to maneuver the All Blacks into a stronger position to help bolster the attendance at next year’s Rugby World Cup. (Yeah, like people need an excuse to go to New Zealand, home of the Lord of the Rings.  And as if rugby fans need any additional reason to go to the hotbed of Rugby)

De Villiers is quoted in the article:

“I’ve got my own observations about the last two tests [against New Zealand], and I can’t say it in public,” he said on July 21. “But we do have a World Cup in New Zealand next year, and maybe it was the right thing for them to win the games so they can attract more people to the games next year.”

In the U.S., this is what we call “working the refs.” Where an official or two from another team start to complain in the media that they are not getting enough calls their way in big games, or that their opponents are getting an unfair advantage.  Los Angeles Laker basketball coach Phil Jackson is a master of this kind of complaining (In fact it’s one reason Jackson was given his moniker, “The Zen Master.” Not just because of his “holistic” coaching style or spiritual beliefs, but because he’s the only NBA coach who can be up 3-1 in a playoff series and get away with complaining about the refs targeting his team.)

The idea behing this is, if you can force the idea of favoritism in the referees mind, then the next time you play that opponent the ref might take care to make a couple of extra calls in your favor to “balance the ledger” from their alleged favoritism in previous games.  You also get the added bonus of the ref thinking twice about making legitimate calls against you – so you get more of an advantage.  It’s probably as old as sports, in fact athletes in the ancient Olympics were probably doing the same thing. 

So what’s the problem, you ask?  If everyone’s doing it then it should be expected.  

It’s planting an idea in the ref’s subconscious, trying to get through to him in a less than honorable way that your team is the victim of a conspiracy that bothers me. I accept that at the end of the day there has to be a winner and a loser on the pitch, and recently the karma has bounced New Zealand’s way.  Just like last year South Africa was near unstoppable. It’s not the ref’s fault that Bakkies Botha decided to go all “Hulk Hogan” in the first few minutes of game one in New Zealand. It’s not the ref’s fault that South Africa couldn’t figure out an answer to shut down an even more determined All Black team the following week, or that took it hard to Australia when they faced off.  These problems are on the Springboks and Wallabies respectively.

I’m sure readers of the Gonzo Report/Rugby Cafe/whatever I end up calling this 😉 might think I have a slight dislike of South Africa, and nothing could be further from the truth. They are, and have been, one of the best teams in the world. I just wish they would stop playing the role of victim/thug-a-licious rugger long enough to get back to basics and focus on the game they get paid handsomely to play. They remind me of the boxer who has the skill and conviction to be a champion, but still feel like they have to fight dirty to win. And South African RFU president Oregan Hoskins had better take note of that and see what he can do to help turn this around.

If the All Blacks do have an advantage in the Tri Nations, it’s due to passion – not chicanery. And the Springboks better dig down and find their own passion before this tournament is over.

Sit Down and Drink Up! It’s Tri Nations Time!

If you’re a Southern Hemisphere rugby fan, then the time for smack talking is over.  It’s time for everyone to sit at the bar, shut the hell up, and start watching the Tri Nations tournament!

In order to explain the Tri-Nations to the Gonzo Report’s new readers, I’ll hand over duties to the estimable Alternative Rugby Commentary commentarian, Jed Thian. (Note: these video embeds are done out of respect for Mr. Thian and his mad skillz, and do not constitute an endorsement of my little experiment
by him. )

The yearly international tournament held between New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, is poised to kick off this weekend at Auckland, New Zealand’s Eden Park – with the Springboks facing down the All Blacks.

This year the I’d like to say the All Blacks are poised to take it all, as they start the 15-month march to the World Cup. However, if you look at the statistics since the 2003 World Cup, the series has nearly drawn even, with New Zealand leading it 8-7. But in 2009, the Springboks blanked the All Blacks, sweeping all three games. And they play three games again in this year’s Tri-Nations series.  Statistically the All Blacks should win one, if not two of the matches – since they host two of the three matches this year.  But if there has been one team that has been able to slow down the All Blacks power rugby attack in recent history, it’s been the Springboks, who look to repeat their success this year.

If New Zealand can get past the Springboks this year, they will have a strong chance to win the tournament.  In the same time period, since the ‘03 World Cup, the All Blacks have dominated the Australia Wallabies series, 14 wins to 3.