RWC2019 Match 27: New Zealand 71 Namibia 9
Tokyo Stadium is a thing, all by itself. When it’s full, and 90 percent are wearing some sort of All Blacks merch, it’s another thing again.
The ABs are adored in Japan. The Japanese man next to me even sang our anthem. Crikey.
And the haka got all the oohs and aahs.
And Namibia got a huge roar of approval when they converted an early penalty to lead 3-nil.
Yes, the underdogs had come to play, and play well. They ran, they passed, they tackled, and they very rarely kicked. Good for them.
At the 30 minute mark, the ABs had their noses in front 10-9, two tries unconverted, and then Nepo Laulala got a yellow card for a forearm to the head of a falling Namibian. We’ll come back to that.
Apparently Shag got to use one of his fireworks at halftime, which he rarely does.
It worked, with the Abs running in seven more tries in the second half, with some scintillating running lines and offloads. Much much better.
Except for Ofa Tu’ungafasi also getting a yellow card at 72 minutes, also for an arm making contact with the head of a falling Namibian.
Under World Cup guidelines, those were probably the right decisions. But the guidelines might need some tweaking, because there’s something else happening.
It’s becoming standard for forwards taking the ball up to lower their heads as they go into contact. Partly that’s about getting low so they can leg surge upwards through the tackle and end up with a good position to lay the ball back. But sometimes, especially when they are putting their heads below their hips, it’s making it difficult for a defender to find a place to make effective and legal contact.
And when the second defender is coming through, after the first defender has made a low tackle, and the attacking player is falling, it’s a lose-lose proposition.
To be clear, neither Laulala nor Tu’ungafasi were making swinging arm tackles. They were attempting to make a wrapping arm tackle on a player who was falling down and away from them, but their arms did clearly make contact with the Namibian’s heads.
Given the high tackle rules are about player safety, which is everybody’s responsibility not just the defenders, my guess is that World Rugby is going to tweak the Laws to say that leading with your head lowered too far is not allowed. Just a guess.
There was a lot of chatter afterwards that J. Barrett had an indifferent game at first-five, especially in the first half. But from my view the problem was really with Aaron Smith, who had an off day with his kicking and some of his passing. That pushed the pressure outside, and the good Namibian rush defence compounded it.
Other aspects: Brodie Retallick returned from injury for 30 minutes of full contact. He looked good, although obviously not back to his best yet. I also thought he looked leaner than usual, but maybe that’s just me.
Sevu Reece was sharp, and Anton Leinert-Brown is gobbling up the 12 jersey.
All in all, this was a first half much like the Perth loss to the Wallabies. Heads not in the right place, so the fluidity was missing.
All of which will be grist to Shag’s mill as we head towards the quarters.
One final observation: at the end of the match, most of the crowd stayed. They were anticipating that the All Blacks would show their respect by bowing to all four edges, which they did. And the really good part, was that they did so with all the Namibian players, the two teams intermixed. This is such a good thing for world rugby, and indeed World Rugby. Let’s keep it going.