Rugby World Cup 2011: Weepu Kicks All Blacks to Victory; Still Plenty to Ponder
Piri Weepu kicked seven penalty goals to ensure the All Blacks will progress through to the semifinals of Rugby World Cup 2011. However, the win was much harder work than many had anticipated, as they got home over Argentina 33-10, in a scoreline that didn't reflect the closeness and intensity of the game.
It was a tight game that saw the All Blacks struggle to make use of their lethal backline, as Argentina did a good job of slowing the All Blacks ball at the breakdown, allowing their defence to regroup. The Pumas' defence was outstanding, taking everything the All Blacks threw at them, holding them tryless for 66 minutes.
However, the Argentinians came unstuck with their inability to score. Only twice did they ever look like scoring, and they took both of these opportunities to notch up their ten points.
For the All Blacks it was a case of staying patient and making do with what they had. They looked to use their backs in the first half, but through a combination of errors and good defence, were unable to penetrate the Pumas' line. At times Ma'a Nonu looked dangerous, but in general he was handled very well, while wingers Sonny Bill Williams and Cory Jane looked the most likely to go through.
The second half saw them opt for a tighter game, looking to pick and go and never move the ball too wide. Many had questioned their ability to do this pre-tournament, so the success at which they applied this gameplan will emerge as a great positive. They never panicked, controlling the ball for large periods of time, content with just plugging away metre by metre. They were met with solid defence, but never really looked in danger of turning the ball over.
All of this patience and pressure told, giving Piri Weepu seven shots at goal, which he slotted all of. This also comes as a huge positive to the All Blacks, knowing that they have a good backup kicker in the absence of Daniel Carter. Weepu has only missed one kick at Rugby World Cup 2011.
Their set piece was very strong, with the lineout in particular going very well and will be a confidence booster heading into next week.
The main concern comes over the problems at flyhalf, and who will be the starting No. 10 now that Carter is unavailable.
Colin Slade played the first 30 minutes, but it was clear throughout that he was being hampered by a groin injury that he has struggled with for most of the year and his performance suffered correspondingly. He never really got going and made a couple of cardinal mistakes. He showed some very good touches too though, and it seems to be a confidence issue as much as anything. If he can find the confidence to play for the All Blacks the way he does at lower levels, he could be a very good player.
But a World Cup isn't really the ideal place to be developing this confidence and picking players based on current abilities and form takes preference. Because of this, Aaron Cruden must push close to claiming the starting spot for the semifinal. Cruden came on and showed just how far he has come since last year, controlling the game well and making some good runs.
Either way though, it was clear that Carter's absence is massive and the lack of a decisive decision maker at flyhalf will make the All Blacks' task that much tougher.
But in general they seem to be ticking along fine. It seems no matter who gets injured, there's always a reasonable replacement available, as they continue to be forced to test the depth of their squad. For instance in the weekend, despite being without Israel Dagg and being forced to pull Mils Muliaina at halftime, they still had a world class replacement fullback in Isaia Toeava to bring in. Not many teams could say that, while the All Blacks could for multiple positions. This will be crucial as their campaign continues.
Next week the tournament reaches the semifinal stages, where the All Blacks will take on their rivals from across the ditch, Australia, in what will no doubt be a war in every sense of the word.
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