Archive for the ‘#AllBlackFriday’ Category

#AllBlackFriday celebrations conclude with a tribute to New Zealand’s all-time leading try scorer, Doug Howlett. He made his debut for the All Blacks against Tonga in 2000, and over the next seven years scored 49 tries in 62 Test matches. Howlett is also the all-time leading try scorer in Super Rugby, having crossed the whitewash 59 times in that prestigious competition. After the 2007 World Cup Howlett moved to Munster, where he continued to be prolific, scoring 35 tries in six very successful years with the Irish province. Howlett’s time at Munster included a Heineken Cup¬†triumph in 2008, which earned him the rare distinction of having won a major domestic trophy in both hemispheres (he won Super Rugby, then called Super 12, with the Auckland Blues in 2003).

When Howlett retired at the end of the 2012-13 season, rugby lost a special talent. On the wing, Howlett was a pure finisher. In the first video below, one thing you will see again and again is Howlett in the right place at the right time, accelerating onto the ball, and touching down in the corner. Howlett elevated the fundamentals to an art form, and many current wingers would do well to study the timing and accuracy of his support play. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was blessed with sub-11 second 100 meter speed! Howlett was also more than capable of putting in the big hits. The second video below shows him taking down a much bigger man, Saracens and South Africa hooker Schalk Brits.

Happy #AllBlackFriday

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the States, as well as #throwbackthursday, so it seems like a good time to pay tribute to a legendary All Black of yesteryear, Jonah Lomu. Lomu became the youngest All Black in history when he made his Test debut for New Zealand against France in 1994 at age 19, and became a global superstar at the 1995 World Cup. His unique combination of size (6’5″ and 273 pounds, according to Scrum) and sub-11 second 100 meter speed made him nearly unstoppable and captivated rugby audiences everywhere. Despite towering over most forwards, Lomu played on the wing because of his speed, agility, and finishing ability. He scored 37 tries in 63 Tests for the All Blacks, and is the all-time leading World Cup try scorer – 15 in 11 games over the course of the 1995 and 1999 tournaments.

Sadly, a rare and serious kidney disorder hampered Lomu’s rugby career almost right from the beginning. Rugby fans can only wonder what might have been. Lomu had a kidney transplant in 2004, and has required dialysis for the past two years, but said in a recent interview with the Irish Independent that his health is “really, really good.” Jonah: thanks for all the wonderful memories you provided on the rugby field, and best wishes for continued good health.

Check out the videos below for some of Lomu’s greatest moments and to see the great man reflect on his career.

Happy #AllBlackFriday

Ben Smith is already a star in New Zealand, but is only now getting the global recognition he richly deserves. Along with his teammate Kieran Read, Smith is nominated for IRB Player of the Year. He was first capped by the All Blacks against Italy in 2009, but struggled to get into the team over the next few years – such is the quality of rugby talent in New Zealand. Smith was given another opportunity for the All Blacks in 2012, playing in 10 Test matches, and he has played in all 14 Tests this year, scoring 11 tries. He is versatile, having played at fullback, wing, and outside center for both club and country. It looks like Smith’s future for the All Blacks will be at outside center, given that incumbent number 13 Conrad Smith (no relation) is currently taking a break from the game and is unlikely to play on past the 2015 World Cup. Take a look at the videos below to get a sense of Ben Smith’s natural rugby ability. He’s got raw pace, great footwork, and silky passing skills. We are sure to see a lot more from him in the years to come.

Happy #AllBlackFriday

One cannot discuss the All Blacks’ success in recent years without mentioning this man, Richie McCaw. Since making his debut against Ireland in Dublin in November 2001, he has played in 124 Test matches – winning 110, drawing 1, and losing just 13. He has captained the All Blacks on an incredible 87 occasions, winning 77 of those games. He has been named IRB Player of the Year three times (2006, 2009, and 2010) and been shortlisted another five times (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2012). Most importantly, he led New Zealand to the 2011 World Cup on home soil, heroically playing through a stress fracture in his foot. He is, quite simply, the player of his generation, and one of the all-time greats.

Happy #AllBlackFriday

All Blacks Number 8 Kieran Read is on the shortlist for IRB Player of the Year, and to me, it would be a shock if he didn’t win the award. As a key link between the forwards and the backs, Number 8 is a position that requires a high level of all-around rugby ability. Read has shown this year that he has it all. In attack, he is a strong ball-carrier, a skillful passer (especially adept at miracle offloads, some of which are featured in the videos below), and runs great support lines, especially out wide. In defense, he puts in the big hits and is very strong at the breakdown, frequently slowing down opposition ball or turning it over. At the set piece, he is an excellent lineout jumper and controls the ball well at the back of the scrum. And if we consider restarts to be a third type of set piece, he is very dependable under the high ball as well. He is one of the leaders of the All Blacks, and has played a pivotal role in their incredible success this year. One tribute video is not enough for this man.

Happy #AllBlackFriday

Many Americans who are unfamiliar with rugby in general are nonetheless aware of the fact that the All Blacks perform the Haka, a Maori dance, before every match. In recent years they have sometimes performed a specific type of Haka called the Kapa o Pango. It is a wonderful tradition, and it is fascinating to see how each individual team responds to the gauntlet being thrown down in such an intense manner. Blindside Liam Messam has recently been put in charge of leading the Haka, and he leads it brilliantly, with passion and fire. Before New Zealand’s recent win over England, Messam apparently nearly fainted because he was screaming so loudly trying to be heard over the England fans singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

Happy #AllBlackFriday