Sonny Bill Signing with JRFU’s Wild Knights

New Zealand All Black Sonny Bill Williams announced at a press conference today that he will be leaving the Waikato Chiefs at the end of the Super Rugby season and heading to Japan to join his new club, the Panasonic Wild Knights (page needs translation) for the start of the Japanese Rugby Season. During the press conference Williams discussed how much of a surprise the impact of playing rugby in his home country impacted him.

“I didn’t think I would love it as much as I have, back here,” Williams said. “To be honest, I’ve kinda felt like I’ve found my place at the Chiefs.”

By moving to Japan, Williams is removing himself from consideration for the All Blacks squad as they prepare for the 2012 Rugby Championship tournament with New Zealand-Australia-South Africa-Argentina, and possibly might be the permanent end of his All Black career. Williams ended his current All Black career on a strong note, scoring nearly back-to-back tries in the first half for New Zealand in their final summer test, beating Ireland 60-0.

It’s expected that this was a first step for Williams to move from Rugby Union back to Rugby League, and possibly a larger salary. Despite being a fairly popular player with All Black Nation, Williams did not show the same dedication to his national team that many fans wanted, opting to sign year-to-year contracts instead of long-term agreements with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

Williams has not actually signed his contract and no terms have yet been released, but according to Sports Illustrated:

Australian media has speculated Williams will receive up to $1.2 million for his short stint with the Panasonic Wild Knights and could receive more than $800,000 to rejoin the Bulldogs National Rugby League club that he quit in 2008.

 

Despite any concerns about Sonny Bill Williams’ dedication to his national team, I’d like to wish him well in his future rugby endeavors and hope his eventual move to Rugby League pans out the way he hopes.

New Zealand 60, Ireland 0: What the hell happened to Ireland??

After almost racking up their first non-defeat by the All Blacks last weekend in Christchurch, with the All Blacks winning the game on a last minute drop-goal by Dan Carter, Ireland decided to get the whole pesky “end of game” collapse out of the way in the first 20 minutes of their third Test Saturday in Hamilton. The 60-0 final score was the worst defeat ever by the Irish at New Zealand’s hands, just seven days off from having almost beaten the All Blacks for the first time ever.

Ireland’s collapse started off strong, giving away four tries in the first 22 minutes to the All Blacks, including a back-to-back pair to… wait for it… (no not Gavin Henson)… reputed soon-to-be-returning to Rugby League star Sonny Bill Williams.

The Irish never appeared to be very comfortable, especially once New Zealand took such a commanding 26-0 lead in the first quarter of the game. Ireland were never able to capitalize after captain Brian O’Driscoll started to engineer a drive into New Zealand territory. At the half, Irish fullback Rob Kearney intercepted a pass that would have led to yet another New Zealand try, but the ref decided he deliberately knocked it on, gave  Kearney a 10-minute yellow card, and gave a penalty for the All Blacks, who tacked on a three-point penalty kick to go into the half leading 29-0.

The second half looked no better for the Irish, as the All Blacks picked up where they left off, charging through a battered Irish defense time and again to score nearly at will. By the time it was over the Irish looked dejected, bewildered, wondering if anyone got the name of the train that ran over them in Hamilton.

Unfortunately, last week’s question of “what could have been” has been replaced by “what the hell happened?” Both are questions that will take a long time to answer.  And the way the tour schedule is firming up for the future, Saturday was the last time in the next 12 years that Ireland had a chance at gaining their first win against New Zealand, outside of any possible faceoffs in the World Cup.

A Dual-Use Rugby Office?

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union recently decided to open an office in Paris, ostensibly to capitalize on the popularity of the All Blacks in Europe following their Rugby World Cup win.

A secondary use for the new offices might be to keep track of all of the All Blacks, and other New Zealand ruggers, who keep getting targeted by certain European professional rugby competitions (I’m looking at you here, Frenchie) with huge contracts to leave Kiwi Nation.

All Blacks Pull Off Last Minute Victory, Wrap Up Tri Nations Title

The New Zealand All Blacks clinched their tenth Tri Nations Tournament in front of over 90,000 rugby fans at FNB Stadium (formerly “Soccer City”) in Soweto, South Africa on Saturday in an exciting 29-22 comeback thanks to tries by All Black captain and flanker Richie McCaw and back Israel Dagg in the last two minutes of play.  

Playing in hostile territory, in front of one of a raucous crowd cheering on their Springboks, the All Blacks had to regain their focus after being called for offenses at four breakdowns in the first 20 minutes of play and finding themselves down 13-6 as a result of penalties.

Coming into the game, the All Blacks were one point away from claiming the title, which – barring a catastrophic breakdown in the rest of the tournament – made winning the Tri Nations almost academic. But it was anything but for the Kiwis.

According to All Black coach Graham Henry, as quoted in The Guardian:

“I just felt so proud of what they’ve achieved. The character, backed by their guts and togetherness was superb. So I think it was a very special win by the All Blacks, an outstanding result and something we will never forget as far as we’re concerned.”

The loss is the fourth in a row for the Springboks, who have to be wondering when they are finally going to hit the bottom of the well and start working their way back up.  Currently they are 0-4 in the Tri Nations, having lost to New Zealand twice in New Zealand and the Saturday’s loss at home, with one loss to Australia, who they face next.   Should the Springboks walk away from the tournament with one win, or winless, we have to wonder what their mindset will be going into their European tour, with the Rugby World Cup just over a year away.

All Blacks Set to Win Tri Nations in “Soccer City”

The New Zealand All Blacks are on the verge of winning the 2010 Tri Nations tournament today, facing off yet again with the South Africa RFU Springboks in South Africa’s “Soccer City” – the new stadium built in Soweto for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Can the All Blacks survive in a stadium packed with 90,000 rabid Springbok fans?  That’s a stadium size usually seen in Rugby World Cup finals matches.

Can the Springboks bounce back from what must have been a disappointing start to the 2010 Tri Nations campaign?

Will the recent complaining by the Springboks about “uneven refereeing patterns” and the yearly threat to leave SANZAR finally play out on the field?

These questions, and more, to be answered soon fellow ruggers!

 

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.

How Do the All Blacks Do It?

One of the questions asked throughout the Rugby Universe is how are they able to do it?  How have a nation of roughly 4 million people, and twice as many sheep, become the powerhouse of the Rugby Universe?  The New Zealand All Blacks are one of the most, if not the most, feared rugby teams around the world, and they’ve done it while beating teams from countries all over the world with a much higher population rates, such as England (51 million), France (65 million) and Australia (22 million), and where rugby is still an important sport.

It comes down to a level of passion that few people New Zealanders are passionate about rugby. It’s their national sport, outside of taunting Japanese whaling ships.  They are a small nation, population-wise, but all four million Kiwis bleed All Black, with little rugby balls bouncing around in their veins.

New Zealanders love their rugby. It’s their passion, they live for this game.  At the start of their lives, baby New Zealanders come out of the chute, hit the ground and immediately start looking for little Springboks to smack. (You can never start too early) Let me just add…

THEY.
LOVE.
RUGBY.

It’s passion. One of the few intangibles you can’t train in a player, or teach them on the field.  You’ll get that passion when you’re laying on the field at the end of a game – with your energy spent and the steam rising from your body like your spirit trying to escape, but it can’t be drilled into you.

It’s the idea that this is their sport, and no one from any other nation is going to take it from them.  This is part of the reason they are able to repeatedly beat teams from the Northern Hemisphere.  Another question people from the north ask is how the Southern Hemisphere teams (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and to a lesser extent, Argentina) repeatedly beat teams from more “established” nations (after all, rugby was founded in England in 1823).

That, and the fact that they tend to play a more expansive style of rugby.  I’m looking forward to seeing if the All Blacks can turn that home field advantage into a second William Webb Ellis trophy at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

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.

Springboks Confirm Worst-Kept Rugby Secret

In a confirmation of what might have been the worst-kept secret in international rugby, the South African Rugby Football Union has today confirmed that the Springboks-New Zealand All Blacks Tri-Nations match on August 21, will be taking place in the newly minted “Soccer City” in Soweto.  And shortly thereafter, the stadium’s name will be changed to “Rugby Stud City”
.

Let’s just hope the Springboks are a little more serious with keeping their set plays hidden from the All Blacks before game time…

We’ve Come a Long Way Since ‘96

The New Zealand Herald reports that should the New Zealand All Blacks fulfill their destiny and win the 2011 Rugby World Cup (held in New Zealand, even) the NZ Rugby Union will pay NZ$ 100,000 to each player.

Quote:

The Collective Agreement between the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Players’ Association, which was formally ratified yesterday, sets in stone a payment of $100,000 to each member of the All Blacks squad should they win next year’s showpiece event.

Should they make the final at Eden Park and lose, they will receive $35,000 each. Just to prove there’s no such thing as a bronze medal in rugby, anything less than second equals $0.

As if the All Blacks needed any more incentive to want to win the World Cup.  Now if there’s a team that knows how to not squander the complete home-field advantage they will have in 2011, it’s the All Blacks.

But more importantly, it’s hard to believe that prior to 1996 rugby was still an amateur sport.  Moving into the professional era was one of the best things that rugby could do, it kept the best rugby players in the sport and they could finally earn incentives like this without having to worry about losing their playing eligibility.