Rugby World Cup 2015

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Craig Dowd

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Craig Dowd played 60 Tests for New Zealand between 1993 and 2000, including in two World Cups, and he was part of the All Blacks team that won their first series in South Africa in 1996. He played for the Blues and Auckland in New Zealand domestic rugby, and for Wasps in England from 2001 to 2005. In 2009, he coached North Harbour in the ITM Cup. More recently has been a SKY Television comments man.

Craig Dowd
Wales, Ireland, England are World Cup dangers if ...
Craig Dowd
March 25, 2015
'Doesn't matter how you win championships' - O'Connell

It's been interesting hearing all the comments after the high-scoring finale to the Six Nations championship at the weekend.

The pressure was on England, Wales and Ireland to score plenty of points if they wanted to take the trophy, and that meant scoring tries. But it is not unusual to see higher scoring in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. As soon as it gets dark, cold and miserable, the defences all come in and they start playing a more structured set-piece game; but you get to this stage of the season and all of a sudden the sun comes out and they start throwing the ball around. That happens year in, year out, and defences that have been condensed all season get stretched to the limit and holes appear.

In the southern hemisphere, the conditions are much better; even now as we head towards our winter, the fields are so good that we never really get to the stage where we get bogged down or where some of the clubs shorten the width of the field to condense the playing surface or they get fire trucks out there to dampen the pitch. Up north, Gloucester were renowned for getting the fire trucks out there and putting water on the pitch to slow it down; but they traditionally always had a hard tough forward pack to contend with, so good on them.

England 55-35 France (Australia only)
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It has been interesting watching British teams throw the ball around and everyone starts saying they are ready to match the All Blacks. They may be. But New Zealand and Australia have "Pacific flair". That is the ability to play at high speed and with space. In Australasia, kids grow up playing touch rugby, a bit of seven-a-side and 10-a-side out on the beach or a field. Getting used to that has impacted on the way we play the game, and adventurous rugby has become second nature.

If the northern teams want to play that style of rugby against the All Blacks, then the All Blacks will be up for the challenge. The game of rugby is about playing someone and taking them to the point where you can exploit their weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths and trying to play their style of game. England made that mistake a few years ago when they tried to play open, running rugby against the All Blacks; that's what the All Blacks love doing.

Italy 20-61 Wales (Australia only)
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The All Blacks have lost over the years when they weren't playing to their strengths. Sometimes it was just the bounce of the ball when it didn't go the All Blacks' way, but a lot of times they were out-muscled in an arm wrestle with a decent forward pack. They weren't the prettiest games to watch but they were what worked for the opponents.

South Africa, by comparison, traditionally have their forwards dominate as they love the contact.

As for the Six Nations title, it was great to see Joe Schmidt get Ireland home. He has done fantastically well over there. He's got a good nature with his players, and the success has followed him from Clermont and Leinster. There's something about him, and he is a very good coach and someone to keep an eye on; and with the old master Warren Gatland, you have two Kiwi coaches who have done very well for themselves.

Scotland 10-40 Ireland (Australia only)
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For the World Cup Wales, Ireland and England will always be dangerous. But don't discount France, as they always seem to turn up come World Cup time.

Rucks are getting out of control

Some of the indiscipline that has been rearing its head in Super Rugby needs to be nipped in the bud, and the right sanctions need to be implemented. Too often now we are seeing guys fly into a ruck with an elbow or a shoulder and no arms at all. And when they are aimed at someone's head they're dangerous. To see our top-level players doing that sort of thing is not acceptable. That's where you make the example.

You will probably find if you go through the medical reports that there is more damage done at the ruck, and the tackle, than in any other area in the game of rugby. We look at collapsed scrums and all the rest of it, but they are not as dangerous as someone dropping a shoulder against someone's head at a ruck. We'll get concussions, we'll get broken necks, and that's the sort of thing that needs to be clamped down on.

Another thing that needs to be addressed is the type of tackle called the "bull toss" or "cow toss", like a rodeo throw, when you grab a player around the head at shoulder level and take him off the ball; that was probably what Liam Messam was doing when he was cited; he was trying to get the guy away from the ball. It does need to be looked at: if it is a tackle, it is a head-high tackle; and if it is in the breakdown, it should be treated no differently. If you attack someone's head in the breakdown, to get him off the ball, then that should be a penalty. You shouldn't be allowed to touch their head.

Super Rugby Round Six

I thought the Crusaders were sensational against the Cheetahs, and their last 20 minutes was great. But I thought the decision to dismiss the Cheetahs prop, Coenie Oosthuizen, was an absolute joke. I felt sorry for them when that happened.

The Highlanders-Hurricanes game was interesting. Neither team could catch a cold in the first half, and the amount of mistakes was incredible. Ma'a Nonu really stepped up, probably because Malakai Fekitoa was in the opposition. But Fekitoa played well, too. It is great to see the competition in midfield, which means even Conrad Smith has to respond. I do think Fekitoa has stepped up to a new level, and we know what Sonny Bill Williams is capable of. It is fascinating.

Craig Dowd has a big rap on Nepo Laulala © Getty Images
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A couple of props, meanwhile, stood out for me.

Nepo Laulala is someone I have always felt needed to change franchises , as I believe he is one of the best tight-head props in New Zealand yet he sits behind Owen Franks at the Crusaders and hardly gets a run. He came on against the Cheetahs and had an immediate effect when the Crusaders got their penalty try. He scrummaged really well and is good around the field. He stood out in the ITM Cup last year and is one player on whom we need to focus a little more.

The other was Brendon Edmonds from the Highlanders and Hawke's Bay. He's going really well. He's a good player, he gets round the field, he does his work, and gave Hurricanes rival Ben Franks a bit of a hurry up in the scrums at Forsyth Barr.

We look at the props coming through, and they are not often talked about because we are looking at the superstars and the players scoring all the tries; but those two props are players whom New Zealand need to look at for the future.

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