World Cup review asks 'where was the droppie'? (+photos, video)

The review into the All Blacks' disastrous World Cup campaign has criticised the team's leadership group for failing to take the right decisions during the critical moments of the loss to France, including discussing whether a drop goal should have been attempted.

In a section focusing on the team's 18-20 quarterfinal loss in Cardiff, the report said the leadership model failed to deliver its most important objective - "decisions which give the best chance of winning the game".

The review was not required to reach a conclusion about the on-field performance in Cardiff but felt compelled to do so anyway.

The All Blacks were widely criticised following the loss for not taking a drop goal during the closing stages of the match and the report said the players, coaches and management must take responsibility for not making the right decision to win the game.

It noted there was a "dilemma" over whether a drop goal or a penalty should be worked on, but noted that coaches sent a message to set for a drop goal with ten minutes to go.

The report said: "With the benefit of hindsight, the team failed to ensure that the right decisions were taken.

As with the philosophy underpinning the leadership model, the players, coaches and management must take responsibility for that."

However, the report said factors outside the team's control were decisive, including the performance of English referee Wayne Barnes and his touch judges, which "had a significant adverse impact on the All Blacks".

It said an "unusual combination" of injuries impacted on the latter stages of the match but concluded that the All Blacks' players failed to handle the pressure of the French.

Former All Black Mark 'Bull' Allen said some of the referee's decisions were "appalling" but he should not take the blame.

"We should never have put ourselves in that position. We had plenty of chances before that to seal the game," Allen said.

He added that the missing drop goal is a side issue.

He said being two first five-eighths down in a game is an unusual situation and something you can't plan for.

"We shouldn't have been in that position where a drop goal was what was needed to win. I believe they had plenty of opportunities early on. They put themselves in a position where they could have buried the French but they didn't have their hand on the hammer," he said.

However, the most critical analysis surrounds the conditioning programme, instigated by coach Graham Henry, in which 22 leading players were withdrawn from the first half of the Super 14 competition.

The review said the programme was based on a sound premise but that the implementation was "not optimal" because there was a lack of consultation with Super 14 franchises and other shareholders in the game such as broadcasters and fans.

Testing showed the programme produced better athletes but said this did not translate into success at the World Cup for an obvious reason.

"One impact of the conditioning programme that was under estimated was the effectiveness of the players returning to rugby and the dent in confidence that some experienced from not having played."

Former All Black Stu Wilson agreed that pulling players out of the Super 14 was the biggest mistake the All Blacks coaches made.

"That was the biggest call and the baddest call they ever made. One, it devalued the Super 14 and two, it gave the South Africans a bit of a nudge because they laughed when they saw that. They got on a roll after that and that roll continued to the World Cup final," Wilson said.

He said the All Blacks who missed those games were not "battle hardened".

"It's important they keep putting new personnel into the black jersey, which is what they call rotation, I have no problem with that," Wilson said.

But the year of the World Cup is not the time to do it, he said.

Wilson said the "Gordon Tietjens philosophy" needs to be adopted for the 2011 World Cup where the top players are played in all three finals matches.

"He said to the guys: if you can't play a quarterfinal, semifinal and final in a row, I don't want you guys. I want guys that will piss blood for the country. And they do it. And the little guys will only get on the track if someone breaks their leg," Wilson said.

Allen said some of the players were lacking in game time but every player is different and that was shown with Henry not putting everyone in the conditioning programme.

He also said that conditioning was not a complete failure as it helped to keep some players in the country.

"I listened to Richie McCaw speak at a function last year. We lost a few players overseas last year and he said if it wasn't for the conditioning programme, we would have lost a lot more," Allen said.

This point is backed up in the report that reveals two players who resigned with the Union last year highlighted the programme as a reason for them staying on in New Zealand.

The 47-page review summarised that winning the World Cup was "over emphasised" by the New Zealand Rugby Union and that, because of the conditioning programme, the team lacked quality game time ahead of their quarterfinal loss.

Also contributing were the team's poor standard of opposition in test matches earlier in the season and in World Cup pool play and too many fulltime staff in All Blacks management.

The review was carried out by lawyer Mike Heron and Sparc (Sport and Recreation New Zealand) official Don Tricker, who were appointed to the task on December 4.

Speaking on behalf of the authors, Mr Heron said: "This review represents our analysis of the material learnings from the unsuccessful Rugby World Cup campaign."

"We had full access to all relevant materials and appreciate the cooperation of everyone we worked with to complete this review.

"The report represents our views and findings in line with the terms of reference, thereby bringing our part of the process to an end. Accordingly, Don and I do not wish to make any further comment," he said.

Critics of the New Zealand union will question why the report took so long to produce and what it will now achieve.

Henry was reappointed three days after the review began and the rest of his management team are in place, with other leading coach candidates such as Robbie Deans and Warren Gatland forced offshore.

The report also threatens to open painful wounds and spark negativity with the 2008 international season approaching.

A press conference with New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs and chief executive Steve Tew is scheduled for 1pm today.

- NZ HERALD STAFF, NZPA

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