Hard News by Russell Brown


Sportsball Special!

"This is a terrible game of rugby," I tweeted at half-time on Saturday and then, during the post-match coverage, "Worst highlights ever."

Yet even as I hit send, British rugby scribes were busily crafting words to the effect that we had witnessed a thriller, a veritable classic of a test match. Well, yes, it was close and it it got tense and that mad decision to go for a surprise tap was a great way to win the game -- a refusal continue as dictated by doughty, doughy English side.

But the lamentable skill level, the hapless kicking game, the general sense of muddle from the All Blacks ... no, it was not a classic. Thank goodness we won.

As always, Tracey Nelson has done the numbers and if you thought Liam Messam went missing on Saturday night, you were right. As ever when you think he's had a quiet one, Richie McCaw topped the first-three-to-the-breakdown table and was second (behind Conrad Smith) in tackles made and (behind Jerome Kaino) in ball carries. Messam is down every table and took the ball up just once. I'm no fancy All Black selector, but I know who I'd be dropping when Kieran Read is fit to return.

England will be bolstered this weekend by the arrival of a fleet of first-choice players from their club final, but I would be surprised if the All Blacks could play so poorly again. But it can fairly be said to be game on.

Meanwhile, of course, there's test cricket for breakfast and the Black Caps have won a good toss, batted carefully and declared at 508/7 on a pitch that might break up later on. For all that New Zealanders like to mock their cricket team, you could hardly have asked for more.

However this match goes, there's going to be quite a lot of cricket with your cornflakes on this tour, with two more tests and a couple of 6am-start T20 games to come.

And from Friday, of course, there is the World Cup, with Brazil v Croatia kicking off weeks of morning matches in our New Zealand time. I don't know much about what to expect from this tournament except that Nate Silver's Soccer Power Algorithim has Brazil as the raging favourites. But feel free to tell me what else to look for  ...

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