Lineout woes sum up shaky New Zealand

HAPPY: Jean de Villers celebrates with a Boks supporter after his intercept try from a Dan Carter pass in Hamilton.
HAPPY: Jean de Villers celebrates with a Boks supporter after his intercept try from a Dan Carter pass in Hamilton.

There were so many targets for the All Blacks in Hamilton it's a wonder the poor guys didn't run on the field with heads spinning like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

It wasn't just the aim of keeping South Africa pointless while New Zealand scored four tries for a bonus point.

They needed to stay calm, to play the game with the cold-eyed efficiency of the professional assassin.

The trick was that the Boks had brought the Steyn boys, Morne and Francois, so, in an ironic flip-flop to the thunder of Don Clarke's kicking in Hamilton against the 1956 Springboks it was quickly obvious that any slack discipline would be fatal.

So to see Kieran Read, usually a model of consistency, having a brain fade and dropping his shoulder into Bryan Habana after the whistle was disconcerting.

So was the hash Joe Rokocoko made of the high ball last night, then knocked on by Mils Muliaina, that led to the try by Fourie du Preez.

So was the embarrassing near falcon from Sitiveni Sivivatu inside his own 22, when the ball pinged from his shoulder to the side of his head, or a wild pass he threw on defence 15 minutes into the second half.

So was the way Ma'a Nonu made potent breaks, but then lost the ball in tackles.

So was the fact that the combination of Daniel Carter and Stephen Donald looked as makeshift as it actually was.

With so little possession from lineouts the ball had to be treated like gold. Too often it was offered as loose change for South Africa.

The All Blacks needed to smash into the Boks the way the Wallabies did in Brisbane, facing their brutally effective forwards with no hint of hesitation or nerves.

No problem there, led by captain Richie McCaw, who early in the game was furiously pushing Bakkies Botha aside beside a maul, they charged relentlessly into the heart of the battle.

Look too, at Jimmy Cowan, making a try-saving tackle on Bismarck du Plessis, and then eyeballing him with a stare that could have frozen an ocean.

Look at Isaia Toeava slicing with power and guile through tackles to set up Sivivatu's try. Toeava's been given an almost limitless number of chances in test rugby, and his running gave a hint why the selectors are so often prepared to forgive handling lapses.

But despite the late flurries of frantic attack, and the amazing kick of Carter for McCaw's try, there was too much early dysfunction to hope for a home team victory.

Most notably the All Blacks needed to get the lineouts right, which should have involved, according to, for example, Ian Jones, (whose 79 test matches at lock would surely give his words some weight) attacking all the Boks' throws except those on the New Zealand line.

They got the attack side basically right. On paper, the figures on the Bok throw may not have looked impressive, but in the first half especially, at least challenging put pressure on the Springboks they didn't handle especially well.

However, if there was a glimmer of hope there, shake your head and weep when it was New Zealand's throw.

The time has come for the All Blacks' coaching group to admit the lineout has got beyond them. Maybe it's the throwing of Andrew Hore, maybe it's the calling, maybe it's the jumpers.

Whatever the issues, and the problem is so bad it may be a combination of all three, the lineout is broken, and it needs to be fixed.

Whether it's Ali Williams or a Super 14 forwards' expert that's sought for specialist coaching, the situation is now a crisis, with no real sign of getting better.

Sunday Star Times