Rugby World Cup
All Blacks v Ireland: The ABCs of victory
Mildly dyslexic Sportsroom editor Steve Deane breaks down the keys to victory for the All Blacks in their World Cup quarterfinal against Ireland
A - Score.
Score more points than the opposition. Typically, for this sort of exercise, the first word of the first sentence would start with an A. But scoring more points than the opposition is so fundamental to victory that it can’t exactly wait until we get to the letter S. So to heck with convention. Besides, there’s no way this thing gets to S before we all run of interest anyway.
(Note to management: unless Newsroom starts paying by the word I’m going to D and that’s it.)
Sorry, we digress. Scoring more points has traditionally been the way to secure victory in big sports matches. Once upon a time, it was in fact compulsory. The recent Cricket World Cup, of course, turned that orthodoxy on its head. But it is still highly likely the All Blacks will need to score more points than Ireland to emerge victorious on Saturday night.
If they don’t, their pathway to victory narrows considerably, leaving them needing to unearth an obscure tie-breaker rule, or reliant on a benevolent act of God. We’ve already seen a few of these at the World Cup, but God’s failure to save the Scots from humiliating themselves shows the supreme being cannot be entirely relied upon.
Better to score plenty of tries and hope Richie Mo’unga has his kicking boots on.
B Butter up the ref (aka sucking axxx).
Any team hoping to get a fair suck of the ol' sav during knockout stages knows the importance of issuing pre-game statements expressing delight at the appointment of the referee. These matches can come down to a single call, which in this case will be made by a handsome, articulate, knowledgeable, upstanding Welshman called Nigel Owens.
At its core, rugby is a game of cheating. It is 30 players (31 if you can sneak an extra on during a blood bin without the ref noticing) doing their level best to bypass rules that virtually nobody fully understands.
Rugby is steeped in cheating, with the best cheats prospering. When the All Blacks are branded cheats by the rest of the rugby world, this is of course an expression of admiration, tinged with a touch of jealousy.
Cheating well in rugby is an art form only ever truly mastered by the most cunning and devious rugby nations – and they’re not necessarily the ones you’d expect.
Take Italy, for example, a proud sporting nation with a fine and noble tradition of cheating at football. They should be masters. But put a bunch of Italians on a rugby field and, the odd eye gouge aside, the silly buggers will largely stick to the rules – and get thrashed.
A central part of any successful cheating strategy is to point the finger at the other team in the hope that the ref is looking the other way at a crucial moment. This is where the Northern Hemisphere nations excel, so is an area the All Blacks must be particularly wary of.
The Irish have been particularly successful at the ‘not us boyo, look over there’ game, moaning incessantly about opposition ruck tactics while permanently positioning their entire backline so far off side they have frequently been mistaken for a family of travellers looking to set up a new camp.
Luckily, Nigel Owens did not come down in the last shower. His fierce intelligence combined with almost superhuman powers of judgment and a character so noble that in a movie about himself he’d be played by Morgan Freeman means Owens is highly unlikely to fall for any malicious Irish pre-game manoeuvrings.
D Don’t get sent off.
Easier said than done these days. For four years the rugby world has been stumbling towards an international showpiece doomed to be wrecked by the untimely dismissal of a player in a massive playoff match.
The pool matches have been an absolute car crash, with players sent off willy-nilly for participating in accidents. Tragically, the latest victim of this is Fua Leiofi Bundellu Aki, whose suspension after being sent off against Samoa means the Auckland-born centre will be denied his childhood dream of playing in a World Cup quarterfinal for Ireland.
The All Blacks should look to exploit Aki’s absence by playing the entire match with 15 players. Doing so will obviously be dependent on how well they manage to execute points B and C.
As they like to say in rugby, it’s all about the process. If the All Blacks get B, C and D right, A will take care of itself.