Steve Hansen faces difficult selection for No.10 starter against Wallabies

When the All Blacks squad for the opening Bledisloe Cup test against Australia is announced on Thursday morning, all eyes will be on who starts at first five eighth.

Will it be the red hot Beauden Barrett, or the traditional work horse Aaron Cruden who gets the nod to start against the Wallabies?

No one can question that Barrett is in career-best form heading into Saturday’s match. Fresh off a Super Rugby title win two weeks ago, more than a handful of people say that this is the time for Barrett to be given the start in a blockbuster match. Continue reading Steve Hansen faces difficult selection for No.10 starter against Wallabies

McKenzie Breaks Century Record As Chiefs Thrash Brumbies

The Chiefs have broken a long losing-streak in Canberra dating back to 2008, punishing the Brumbies 58-23 tonight.

Dave Rennie’s men punished the Brumbies who went into the match as Super Rugby’s best defensive team, and closest-rivals to the Chiefs on the points table.

The Chiefs ran in six tries, including a double for James Lowe on the wing, and it was nothing short of punishing, a performance fitting of a team that deserves its place on top of the Super Rugby ladder.

Lowe’s two tries puts him into the top tier of players to dot over the line in 2016, but it was the wingers ability to kick into space and put the Chiefs deep into Brumbies territory that was equally as impressive. Continue reading McKenzie Breaks Century Record As Chiefs Thrash Brumbies

McCaw 80-minutes away from making history

No team has ever won the William Web Ellis trophy back-to-back in successive World Cups, and for Richie McCaw of New Zealand, what better way to end the greatest rugby career than by being the captain of the first side to ever achieve this feat.

It seems almost ironic that the Wallabies, a side the All Blacks play more than any other, would stand in their way to making history, but this RWC final will be no continuation of the status quo, this will be a showdown with more riding on the result than ever before.

It is the last game in the All Blacks uniform for many legends of New Zealand Rugby.

These legends don’t only include the captain, Daniel Carter, Ma’a Nonu, and Conrad Smith are all going to experience their finale in this RWC final, and all of these men deserve nothing more than finish as two-time World Champions.

The Wallabies have everything to gain by winning this match and should feel no fear. It has been said, witnessed, and speculated on in every columnist’s preview of Wallabies matches against the All Blacks; this is a side that should win more games against their Tasman rivals than the records suggest. The pairing of David Pocock and Michael Hooper will be central to the Wallabies game plan, the tactic must be to slow down All Black ball and keep the running game contained.

Defensively, the Wallabies must continue the almost unbreakable trend of their goal line defense to give them any chance of keeping close to the All Blacks on the scoreboard. There will be penalties, but if the Wallabies can keep their opponents to a minimum three points on red zone attack, it will go a long way to the outcome of the match.

The age difference of players in each side will make no difference, the likes of McCaw and Carter are simply too world class, and any poor performance in the final will have nothing to do with their age.

Putting the World Cup aside, honours are even in 2015 between the two sides after two games where the results were vastly different. Both the All Blacks and the Wallabies have improved in leaps and bounds since the last time they met at Eden Park, a mere few months ago, but the biggest improvement of all has to be the defense of the Wallabies.

In terms of an occasion for rugby players, it doesn’t get much bigger than what lies ahead for these 30 young men. They must enjoy the occasion, put everything on the line, but realise that no matter the result, they can all be proud of a great tournament.

As the old saying goes, may the best team win.

Barbaric ‘war of words’ continues ahead of RWC final

The war of words continues to intensify as users on social media are now getting in on the act.

With their clash against their Tasman rivals to determine the winner of RWC 2015 just days away, the Wallabies have come under heavy criticism from fans in New Zealand after refusing to refer to their opponents as their proper title, the All Blacks.

In fact, for an entire press conference, the Wallabies players and coach refused to use the proper name, instead insisting by calling the team just ‘New Zealand’.

The Australian media has waged war on All Black captain Richie McCaw all week long, calling him a ‘grub’, and then in an editorial in The Daily Telegraph this morning, the paper labelled the All Blacks as ‘chokers’.

All Black fans have started a hash tag on Twitter called ‘say my name’ and are challenging the Wallabies to call team New Zealand by their proper title.

The mind games that are being played are nothing new and come as no surprise at all. Soon, the time for talk will be over, all that matters is the result at the end of the day.

Wales and France have all to gain in quarterfinals

A lot is on the line for Wales and France during tomorrow’s opening quarterfinals of RWC.

For the French, they must not fear the All Blacks and find a way to repeat the ‘shock’ upset of 2007. The side all the ingredients to repeat, they have just come off a big loss to Ireland and have absolutely nothing to lose because the bookies give them no chance.

A French side not expected to deliver the goods is one of the most dangerous oppositions.

The All Blacks have been average at best up until the second half against Tonga when the powerful backline, with the injection of Ma’a Nonu and some brilliance by Nehe Milner-Skudder, finally showed the typical try fest All Black have come to expect. Though many fans are not saying it, certain media commentators (including a famous ex All Black) have been absolutely correct in their writing that so far, the All Blacks just haven’t looked like a side destined to go all the way in this tournament.

The French, like in 2007, have no better opportunity to beat the All Blacks in neatural territory.

The other big match of the day is South Africa, the side that lost to Japan in opening pool play, playing the dangerous Welsh in a match that is almost impossible to determine a winner of.

South Africa have looked absolutely sublime both in their running with the ball and kicking territory since the loss to Japan, and there is no doubting that the shocking result was a one off. South Africa should be on the popular side of the punters because of their experience of winning World Cups.

Wales would have lost a lot of confidence against the Wallabies when their attacking ball runners just couldn’t get across the line and one can’t help but wonder if it has the potential to bring out the worst flow on affect for the quarterfinal.

Wales made the semi finals of RWC back in 2011 and should have progressed further. Warren Gatland has been the talk of this years’ tournament, and his side has finally made the rugby world stand up and take notice. But all that notice, though well deserved, will be gone in an instant should South Africa win, and it will be a terrific shame for the tournament in many ways.

The real RWC 2015 begins now.

Few All Blacks have positions locked in for RWC

Some of the high-profile All Blacks who didn’t make the trip to Samoa rightly have the spotlight on them as the first home game of the year approaches.

(Photo credit: Telegraph UK via Google Images) 

Julian Savea has nothing to prove on Friday night against Argentina despite claims by some critics that he dropped the Hurricanes chance of winning Super Rugby.

Savea is one of just a few players in the All Blacks line up who doesn’t need to solidify his position on the wing.

That cannot be said for so many others in the All Blacks this year.

The RWC is going to come around fast, with the likelihood of experimentation and rotation set high, the likes of Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara now find themselves on a equal playing field with players higher up the ranks as the battle for selection heats up.

The perfect All Black side would have four starters locked in for the rest of the season, but all over positions should be open for trail in the very few games that are ahead before the RWC.

Those four players would be, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Richie McCaw, and Ma’a Nonu.

Some media commentators have said that Daniel Carter needs to be the regular starter at first five for the All Blacks heading into the RWC, and if this becomes a reality, that means Carter would have earned the spot by finding the form that has seen him become the benchmark kicker in rugby.

If Carter finds that form, it will spell that Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade will be bench warmers for the entire season, barring positional swapping by Steve Hansen and the selectors.

And then there is Lima Sopoaga who has put up stats have seen him become the best kicker in 2015 thus far without question.

If Carter remains fit, the challenge will be to keep the on-field form at a continual growth, because that is the only way he will be able to justify to the All Black coaches and the public that he should start come crunch time in the World Cup.

Super Rugby 2015 Round #1 Predictions

Super Rugby officially kicks off this weekend, and here are The Real Michael Pulman’s picks for round one.

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Crusaders vs Rebels: Crusaders win

Brumbies vs Reds: Reds win

Lions vs Hurricanes: Hurricanes win

Blues vs Chiefs: Chiefs win

Sharks vs Cheetahs: Sharks win

Bulls vs Stormers: Bulls win

Waratahs vs Force: Waratahs win 

James O’Connor returns to Australia

James O’Connor is back in Australia and will once again play Super Rugby in 2015 after a recent stint in Europe.

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The former Wallaby was embroiled in controversy upon leaving Australia after at incident at an airport at Perth back in 2013.

The incident involved airport staff after O’Conner was removed from the airport and barred from taking an international flight because he was intoxicated.

Many believed O’Connor’s Wallabies career was in doubt and the utility back shortly after shifted to France to play rugby for Toulon.

O’Conner has also played for the London Irish during his time away from Australia.

James O’Conner will join Quade Cooper at the Queensland Reds for the 2015 Super Rugby season and has already begun pre season training with the squad.

Wallabies loss a disgrace to history of Australian rugby

The Wallabies bombed one of the surest things in recent international rugby last night.

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With 10 minutes left on the clock, all money was pointing toward a Wallabies upset in Brisbane. The All Blacks were gone, not in the game, and not looking likely to score a penalty goal never mind a try.

Colin Slade missed finding touch from a penalty with little over a minute to play.

From there, the result should have been signed, sealed, and delivered.

But it wasn’t.

Malakai Fekitoa had an average game, but when his moment came, he backed himself and showed all the qualities of amazing that this All Black side has become famous for. He could have passed, but he backed himself, and leaped over the line for a try, sending the rugby world into an absolute frenzy.

Colin Slade had a simple task, kick the conversion and win the match, or miss and become known as the 2014 version of Stephan Donald.

The ball never looked like missing.

Colin Slade is now the most talked about No.10 in the All Blacks, who would have thought that this time yesterday?

The final score in Brisbane was 29-28 to the All Blacks.

But the drama was only just beginning.

Ewen McKenzie resigned from his role as Wallabies coach effective immediately, and then ARU powers focused the blame for it on the media. The ARU believe that had it not been for the unfounded character attacks and rumors swirled around this week by writers and reporters, McKenzie would still be in the job.

The Wallabies leave for the UK on Friday, leaving the ARU less than a week to find a new coach.

Wallabies fans probably thought they’d seen every implosion possible until last night.

The fact that this Wallabies side didn’t hold on and get the win is more than staggering, it is disgraceful, and it shows those same symptoms which have been the reason why the All Blacks beat Australia more often than not. The All Blacks were less than average, even with the remarkable finish. McCaw and his men should have lost, but the Wallabies have no one to blame but themselves, it was just a shambles.

It cannot possibly get any darker in Wallabies rugby right now.

All Blacks smell Wallabies prey at Suncorp

A loss to the All Blacks would be the one thing to top off the week from hell for the Wallabies.

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But it could also be the one thing that will finally allow rugby followers to actually have something to say about events that occur on the field for this Wallabies unit.

The Wallabies need fans to have a different focus, we have all heard enough of the crap that this week has offered.

For the All Blacks, this week’s preparation has been called one of the most low key test weeks for an All Blacks side in recent memory.

The squad is set and ready to go, and Beauden Barrett will once again be given the starting role. The Hurricanes first five needs to perform in a little more convincing fashion tonight after not exactly offering any mouth watering performances since being given the run on.

The first was understandable in the rain and wind in Napier, but Barrett is yet to solidify his claim for the regular kicking option even after being given two free goes at the role following Aaron Cruden’s big night on the town last month.

Balance, calmness, and low key is hardly what the feeling will be inside the Wallabies camp tonight in Brisbane.

Because honestly, could the off field issues be any worse?

You’d have to imagine that the Wallabies will throw everything including the kitchen sink on the field tonight as they bid to get that elusive win over the All Blacks.

With all the controversy, some may even have forgotten that one Quade Cooper makes his return to the Wallabies tonight, against his favorite team no less. It wouldn’t be a stretch to also say that many would suddenly remember at kick off that tonight sees Adam Ashley Cooper make his 100th test start.

That’s how bad these issues involving Kurtley Beale, Ewen McKenzie, and Di Patston cloud the Wallabies.

But what should be on the minds of Wallabies fans is concern.

The players in this team have openly and publicly backed Kurtley Beale, and if you look at Beale’s rap sheet of past trouble making, it is absolutely staggering that anyone in the side is fighting Kurtley’s corner. This mindset, perhaps even culture that is running rampant and seemingly growing in the Wallabies camp is unhealthy, and the All Blacks will be more than happy to take full advantage during this evenings test match.

Ewen McKenzie and his men must be asking, “how in the hell do we pull this off?”.

If it is possible, if the off field dramas can possibly be put on the back burner for just 80 minutes, the Wallabies formula to beating the All Blacks will be the same tonight as it has been so many times before.

The playmakers are there, and the ability has always been.

Time and time again we have seen the Wallabies get into positions to score tries, tries which would put the All Blacks on the back foot either very early on in a game or midway through the second half where in recent memory, the Wallabies have began to either claw their way back, or implode completely.

The Wallabies, tonight more than ever before need to come out of the sheds with a hiss and a roar and make a statement from the kick off.

Anything less, and the All Blacks will run away with the match.

Full coverage of tonight’s third and final All Blacks/Wallabies test for 2014 will be live blogged over on michaelpulmanlive.tumblr.com