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FEATURE The killer problem that plagued the All Blacks' World Cup campaign

The killer problem that plagued the All Blacks' World Cup campaign
7 months ago

There was always a feeling, a concern lurking somewhere in the back of the mind, that the ghost of ill-discipline was eventually going to haunt the All Blacks at the World Cup.

They had been riding their luck on that front for longer than they should have thought safe.

They picked up a yellow card on the opening night of the tournament when Will Jordan was guilty of not taking due care when he was chasing and challenging for high balls.

He was perhaps even fortunate, given his recidivist offending on the night, that it didn’t end up as a red card, but certainly the yellow he picked up midway through the second half proved to be the turning point – the moment France needed to seize control of the game and win.

As All Blacks head coach Ian Foster would say after the 27-13 loss, the first pool defeat in New Zealand’s history: “Will was a bit clumsy with aerial things and the second hurt us. We have to get more efficient in the air.”

Will Jordan of the All Blacks and Thomas Ramos of France contest for the high kick. Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images

The following week Ethan de Groot was red carded for a high tackle with 10 minutes left to play against Namibia.

He didn’t get his body height right and his timing was a fraction off, so he paid the price.

There were no complaints from the All Blacks about the decision, but there was some frustration that once again they would have a player in front of the judiciary, facing at least a two-week ban for an indiscretion that looked entirely avoidable.

The maddening thing for the All Blacks coaching team was that the message was simply not getting through.

They had been beating the drum about the importance of retaining 15 men on the field for the entirety of the World Cup cycle, but coming into 2023, they were using strong statistics to illustrate to the players the importance of playing within the rules.

The maddening thing for the All Blacks coaching team was that the message was simply not getting through.

Ireland were world number one and – not coincidentally – also the most disciplined team in the world. In their 22 Tests leading into the World Cup, stretching back to June 2021, they picked up just two yellow cards.

France, who throughout 2021 and 2022 were vying with Ireland for that top spot, were delivered one yellow and one red over that period.

The All Blacks, on the other hand, were shown a litany of cards and the evidence was writ large about how much that was hurting them.

In their last game of 2021 in Paris, a yellow card to Ardie Savea in the last 12 minutes killed the comeback they were mounting.

In the July 2022 series against Ireland, they were shown two yellows and a red in the first 30 minutes of the second Test, and when they allowed England to come back from 25-6 behind in their final game of that same year, the catalyst was a yellow card to Beauden Barrett with nine minutes to go.

Angus Ta'avao
Angus Ta’avao leaves the field with a red card during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Forsyth Barr Stadium. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

On the flip side, there was further correlation to prove the link between discipline and success when they won the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup in 2023 without having a single man sent to the sin-bin.

Which is why, when they arrived in Europe in August this year to play South Africa in a pre-tournament warm-up Test, they understood entirely that if they were to win the World Cup, they would need their discipline to be immaculate.

“There have been a lot of cards, but the rules are pretty obvious,” All Blacks forwards coach Jason Ryan observed in London before the match against the Springboks.

“You have just got to stay away from the head. You have got to get your tackle technique right and live under the ball. You have still got to be dominant though.”

But the All Blacks didn’t get that right at Twickenham – they were shown three yellow cards in the first half and because two of them were issued to Scott Barrett, he was sent off.

It was the rot the All Blacks couldn’t stop and yet they somehow managed to get away with it in the quarter-final when they incurred two yellow cards.

And so when De Groot was shown a red card against Namibia, it meant the All Blacks had accumulated four yellows and two reds since they had arrived in Europe to begin their World Cup campaign.

It was the rot the All Blacks couldn’t stop and yet they somehow managed to get away with it in the quarter-final when they incurred two yellow cards.

Their general discipline was improved against Ireland, but they were still being plagued by moments of indiscretion.

Aaron Smith was perhaps unfortunate to be shown a yellow when he instinctively stuck his hand out at a pass, but there were no complaints about Codie Taylor’s as he pulled a driving maul down in full view.

In the semi-final, Scott Barrett was yellow carded late in the piece for a remarkably dumb act of slapping the ball while he was lying on the ground.

Scott Barrett
Scott Barrett of New Zealand is shown a yellow card by referee Matt Carley, his second of the match, before it is upgraded to a red card during the Summer International match between New Zealand All Blacks v South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on August 25, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

The cracks were there, but no one wanted to see them or believe that come the final, the All Blacks would not use the size of the occasion and the importance of what was at stake to get their house in order.

Two days before the showdown, Foster was asked about South Africa’s decision to again load their bench with seven forwards and how he planned to combat it given that the strategy was first used against the All Blacks at Twickenham before the tournament.

“We doubled up on their 7-1 split by playing with 14 men and 13 at one point for part of that game,” he dryly observed.

“We tried that strategy and decided we didn’t like it so we are going to try a different one.”

Except, come the final, they didn’t try a different one. They went with the same formula, with Shannon Frizell picking up a yellow card just two minutes into the game.

It’s no excuse. We’ve been here for two months and we’ve seen how things have been ruled.

Sam Cane on the red card he incurred during the World Cup final

The killer, though, was of course the red card to Sam Cane. It was a horrible, terrible way for the skipper to leave his mark on the final, but neither he nor the All Blacks had any dispute with the decision.

“We know that collisions need to be low,” Cane said. “If anything, I got caught a bit surprised that he stepped back in my direction. It’s no excuse. We’ve been here for two months and we’ve seen how things have been ruled. Hugely disappointed.

“Obviously so many shitty emotions, on a personal level and on behalf of the team. Mixed in there is a heck of a lot of pride with the way the boys fought out there tonight, gave ourselves an opportunity. They’re just a bunch of warriors.

“So gutted. So proud of how far we’ve come. It hurts so much to fall at the final hurdle and probably the style that we did.

“It can’t be changed. Unfortunately, it is something I am going to have to live with forever.”

Sam Cane
Sam Cane of New Zealand looks dejected after an initial yellow card was upgraded to a red card following a TMO review during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Ramos – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The two cards meant that the All Blacks played only 28 minutes of the final with 15 men. South Africa played 60 minutes with 15 men and the analysis could focus on any number of little things as the key moments of where the game was won and lost, but this statistic is the real story of the game.

The All Blacks, for all their bravery in the final to keep believing, to keep fighting and to get so close to victory, were their own worst enemy.

They couldn’t stop having those moments of indiscretion that carried such a high price.

They improved their general discipline as the tournament progressed – their ability to stay onside, to scrummage legally and stay on their feet at the breakdown – but not the lack-of-concentration or lazy moments that saw them pick up a total of five yellow cards and two reds.

It was inevitable, really, that their inability to fix that problem would ultimately come to hurt them, and for incoming coach Scott Robertson, it is obvious what his first needs to be.


B.J. Spratt 233 days ago

The problem with New Zealand Rugby is the NZRFU.

For example The NZ Woman’s Rugby team is still wearing ALTRAD on their Jersey. It has been removed from the AB’s Jersey

Mohed ALTRAD paid the Vice Chairman Bernard Laporte NZ$300k fo make sure ALTRAD was on the French Jersey. Both were convicted and given a two year “suspended Sentence”

Many thought they should have received prison. The NZRFU agreed to ALTRAD on the All Black Jersey, knowing that Mohed Altrad and Bernard Laporte were both before the French Courts when they signed the deal.

The question is who received the “Backhander” at the NZRFU? It’s not really hard to work out.

Laporte has had contact with several “well known NZRFU figures over the years” but I suppose you have to look at the top, when it comes to “corruption”

It will be interesting to see what they do with “Billy Beaumont” The poms will cover it up and he will just stand down.

Google New Zealand Rugby Review August 31st, 2023 and you will see why New Zealand Rugby is in a state of disarray.

It all starts at the top. Bad governance and corruption, leads to poor Coach selection, i.e Foster, which leads to poor Captain selection, poor player selections, because everyone has “something to hide”

David 235 days ago

After a closely contested first half, the _ got the edge because of New Zealand’s ill-discipline. The All Blacks conceded too many penalties which ——— was able to convert at regular intervals throughout the match.

This report on the French demolition of the kiwis almost mirrors or could be used with Springboks inserted. This is highly suggestive of an internal kiwi discipline issue that needs to be sorted out.

Nickers 235 days ago

Discipline and goal kicking. You could have written the script years ago. ABs have never solved their problem with yellow cards which started around 7 years ago, and were unable to develop RM or BB into world class goal kickers.

You can’t win a world cup without a sharp shooter who kicks 80%+ minimum, or like Pollard and Farrell who must be close to 95% between the 15m lines anywhere in the opposition half.

David 235 days ago

Springboks are the winningest team in RWC history, and the Kiwis are the whiniest team in RWC history.

atawhai 237 days ago

Good article. I love the ABs. Need to keep on reminding and training the boys!

Jeff 238 days ago

RWC 2023 has shown South Africa are the worst team in history to have won a world cup. Couldn’t even score a try against 14 men, scraped their way through the knockout stages with unconvincing victories reliant upon controversial decisions.

Rod 238 days ago

Suck it up Kiwis.
Richie started the sly rot decades ago. If he had been blown up by more balsy refs and vigilant camera work the wannabe AB would have toast years ago. Go listen to that wonderful Neil Young song - On the losing end …. Oh and by the way remind the captain to tackle lower if he wants play with the big boys period.
Why choose the the top 5 % of the body when you can feast on the bottom 95%.
Oh and go find new kickers.

Another 238 days ago

The most obvious weakness of this All Blacks team has been their lack of discipline. It has been frustrating and never resolved for several years. While a lot of the cards have been debatable or unlucky, more effort should have been devoted to simply getting the technique right to eradicate it. You make your own luck and, to be clear, other teams haven’t been anywhere as unlucky. Moving forward, it has to be eradicated from NZs game.

john 238 days ago

It’s what I call the Richie McCaw legacy. No question McCaw was brilliant at ‘scooting round the edges of the law’, to put it nicely and got away with it because of a love affair with McCaw from the Refs who admired his sneakiness. Especially Nigel Owens. Who the other Refs admired.

Unfortunately current All Blacks have tried to emulate this ‘sneakiness’ but nobody can match the master of c……..

Hence they stumble. The whole NZ game became centered around it while other teams moved on. NZ is stuck in this paradigm.

B.J. Spratt 238 days ago

New Zealand is the “most undisciplined side amongst the top 5 teams” Please don’t embarrass us anymore by “whinging” about the referee.

Worst Captain, Worst Coach, Biggest hiding at Twickenham in All Black History, First red card in WRC Final. Jesus these boys sure set a “few records”

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