I always get out of bed at least ten minutes before the kickoff to watch Northern hemisphere games.Â That may be ten minutes of sleep lost, but I think the chance to get a feeling for the atmosphere of the stadium adds greatly to the understanding of the dynamics of a game.
Yesterday I was more than a little nervous.Â The French are five nations champions, the AB’s have lost a number of times outside of Paris and my “friend” Stuart Dickinson was refereeing.Â To add to it, it was Armistice Day and the crowd were in good voice.
As it turned out, listening to Richie McCaw after the game, Armistice Day may have fired up the All Blacks more than the French.
There is always a lot of talk back home in New Zealand about Graham Henry’s selections, particularly his rotation policy.Â The main talking points were Luke McAllister’s injection into midfield with Conrad Smith, and the locking choices of Ali Williams and James Ryan.
Luke McAllister was an obvious success, given the great runs he made, tries he scored and solidarity he maintained when he moved to number 10.
Graham Henry will also maintain his problems with who to select at lock after strong performances for both Williams and Ryan.Â The point is well made by Richard Boock:
Never mind that Henry hasn’t got a first XV but something much better – an interchangeable squad that can be tailor-made to match the strengths and weakness of each opponent.
This point is particularly apparent at lock.Â For teams with strong line outs, who tend to kick the ball out whenever possible (i.e. England and South Africa) you pick Chris Jack and Keith Robinson at lock.Â They’re both massive, strong and imposing at set plays.Â However in open play, as Williams showed yesterday, it is better to have the more agile, running versions.
The wonderful thing to watch from a New Zealand perspective is substitutions.Â When one is made, you never feel like the team is taking a step down.Â That is an amazing achievement.
It’s a great time to be an All Black fan.Â Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, as giants among giants, will be remembered in the future as two of the greatest players of all time.