10 Oct 2015

Let's knock it up a notch, boys

5:59 pm on 10 October 2015

OPINION: Let's knock it up a notch, boys.

If the All Blacks needed any inspiration to rectify their sluggish start to the Rugby World Cup, they could do worse than have a look at the way the Springboks are going.

All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo scores against Georgia RWC2015

All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo scores against Georgia RWC2015 Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Their mind-boggling loss to Japan seems like a thousand centuries ago. Since then the Boks have reverted to their brutish best. Manu Samoa, Scotland and the USA have been dealt with like a school bully getting his rep back by giving everyone else in the playground a hiding.

Patrick Lambie is tackled in South Africa's World Cup loss to Japan.

Patrick Lambie is tackled in South Africa's World Cup loss to Japan. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Their form, the Wallabies dominance and Los Pumas impressive last two games could mean that England's embarrassment could be dealt out to their northern hemisphere neighbours as well. Right now, there is a very real chance the semi finalists could be the four Rugby Championship sides.

But first, the All Blacks have a pool game against Tonga. Our results so far in the tournament haven't exactly set the world alight, but here's a couple of interesting case studies for the doom-sayers out there:

In the 2003 World Cup, the All Blacks scored 282 in pool play at an average of 70 points a game. They were so confident against the Boks in the quarter final that Carlos Spencer found time to throw a between-the-legs pass for Joe Rokocoko to score. Didn't count for much when they lost the next week to the Wallabies though.

Contrast that to the French at the 2011 tournament. Not only did they limp into the quarters with two losses, including one to Tonga, they looked far from convincing against the likes of Japan and Canada. They managed to shake that off and make a final they came within one point of winning (thank goodness they didn't, though).

So the moral is pool play, much like playing in a pool in real life, is pretty harmless as long as you can get out. If you can't, the results will probably make a lot of people cry. Just ask England.

All Blacks midfielder Ma'a Nonu

Ma'a Nonu Photo: Photosport

The big storyline of this game is that it is Ma'a Nonu's 100th test match, which is an amazing achievement for the Wellington and Hurricanes midfielder. Nonu's debut was way back in 2003 and he's one of a rare breed of All Blacks to have lost on his debut (15-13 to England).

The only other team member who can 'boast' this dubious honour is winger Nehe Milner-Skudder. Waisake Naholo fills the other wing jersey, so this could be a trial for either to partner up with Julian Savea when the business end starts. Or it's a chance to see how well they go without him.

Richie McCaw's sitting this one out, so Sam Cane is back at openside. However, his captaincy aspirations will have to be put on hold for the next chapter to be written, Kieran Read will be calling the shots.

The Tongan team huddle together following their Rugby World Cup defeat to Argentina.

The Tongan team huddle together following their Rugby World Cup defeat to Argentina. Photo: AFP

The Tongans suffered a real setback early in the tournament when they were beaten by Georgia. Since then they've got over Namibia and been savaged by Los Pumas. There's a fair few New Zealand connections in their side, with recent All Black Charles Piutau's brother Siale in at centre for the 'Ikale Tahi (Sea Eagles, the official team name). Captain and openside Nili Latu played club footy in Wellington for Poneke FC and then for Bay of Plenty, while Viliami Ma'afu and Fetu'u Vainakolo both have Super Rugby experience.

Man to watch: He's been pretty quiet so far, so it wouldn't hurt Jerome Kaino to have a big game here. The Wallabies duo of David Pocock and Michael Hooper made a strong case for the redundancy of old-school blindside play last week, so the All Blacks enforcer should send them a message that he's still very much a threat.

After far from convincing performances against the likes of Georgia, the All Blacks aren't getting ahead of themselves and thinking of the quarterfinals says veteran flanker Jerome Kaino.

Jerome Kaino during the All Blacks match against Georgia which they won 43-10. Photo: Photosport

Prediction: The All Blacks will be wanting to shore up some of the cracks before the quarter final, so expect a higher degree of accuracy in this match. This will probably manifest itself in a more methodical pace, rather than the erratic play we've seen so far.

Predicted score: All Blacks 52 Tonga 13

How they line up:

All Blacks: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock. Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams

'Ikale Tahi: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Latiume Fosita, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Joseph Tuineau, 4 Tukulua Lokotui, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha. Bench: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Jack Ram, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Viliami Tahitua, 23 Will Helu

St James Park, Newcastle

Saturday, 10 October (NZT)

8am kickoff

The Benchwarmer's Comment logo

Jamie 'The Benchwarmer' Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

The Benchwarmer's Comment will run throughout the World Cup on radionz.co.nz

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