Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Herbert must build skill on All Whites' heroism


Accolades continue to rain down on the All Whites and justifiably so.

The only complaint I have about ESPN's World Cup All Star team, which included Ryan Nelsen, is that All Whites goalkeeper Mark Paston wasn't included.

Paston - the man who got us to South Africa in the first place - was that good.

Ricki Herbert and his squad of about a dozen players he trusted to send into battle performed an absolute miracle. Herbert and the All Whites have set a foundation, but it shouldn't be regarded as a blueprint.

The New Zealand game needs more artistry, and what happened in South Africa served as a reminder of that.

The All Whites' archaic way of playing the game - heavily structured with a lack of fluidity on the ground - needs to be consigned to the archives.

It won't attract and encourage a new and wider generation of players, or serve the national side well again.

The All Whites managed just three shots on goal throughout the tournament - even North Korea created about four times that.

The All Whites were among the worst offenders when it came to fouls. Nearly half were committed by strikers Rory Fallon and Chris Killen, men in positions that are supposed to excite the crowds.

The team's heroics against Italy will live on in legend, but the All Whites are unlikely to escape unscathed from such battles unless they find a new way to play.

Against the deposed world champions, New Zealand managed three shots against 23, and one shot on goal against seven. They conceded 15 corners and had none themselves.

They scrapped their way to a brilliant draw, committing an enormous 25 fouls against 11.

A unique bunch rode their luck and courage - and a smattering of world-class skill - in this tournament, but this is not the clever way ahead.

New Zealand soccer needs to breed skilful players, in the mould of Simon Elliott and Leo Bertos, and get them into the world's best leagues.

We need players who can retain possession longer, and also strikers with a nose for goal because chances were squandered.

The men who find a way of doing this will be the ones who secure the game's future in this country.

As for this week's celebrations after the All Whites were left as the only undefeated team in the tournament, there is another side to that story.

One of the reasons for this "success", of course, is that they didn't make it into the knockout round, which in itself is a part failure.

Surely it goes without saying, but under the current structure all the best teams, bar possibly one, are assured of at least one defeat.

Players such as Nelsen, Elliott and Fallon were bitterly disappointed New Zealand's strong start did not see them progress to the knockout stage.

A lack of attacking ambition in the latter stages of the match against Paraguay, when they knew a goal was needed to get into the round of 16, may have also helped preserve the unbeaten record.

Maybe the All Whites didn't have the necessary personnel, but some observers justifiably felt they needed to be more daring at Polokwane, to risk defeat in pursuit of what should have been the ultimate aim.

Simply trumpeting an unbeaten record as an unqualified success is the sort of analysis that will return New Zealand soccer to paralysis.

* Peter de Villiers, the madcap Springboks coach, is right. There does need to be some kind of scrutiny about the use of replays at grounds. Quite clearly, the use of video can be abused.

He's also right about the lack of scrutiny over Jimmy Cowan's deliberate obstruction on Bakkies Botha in the first minute of Saturday's match at Eden Park.

That the officials missed Cowan's obstruction is extraordinary. Cowan blatantly cheated and if there is not a rule to cover the situation, there should be one - and it should involve the sin bin.

But if de Villiers doesn't want his players hung, drawn and quartered on the big screen, then he should suggest to a knucklehead like Botha that he refrain from assaulting opponents with blatant acts such as head-butting from behind.

De Villiers should have condemned Botha for his deed. It was a continuation of a long history of thuggery and violence by a man who is a blight upon the game.

De Villiers' attempt to defend Botha is appalling. He says Botha was provoked. Sport involves endless provocation of one sort or another. Violent responses are not the answer. The real answer in this case may be that de Villiers is, in fact, a puppet coach who is intimidated by the players supposedly under his command.

* Defenders of the NRL salary cap and the game's administration need look no further than Sunday's demolition derby between Penrith and the Warriors to find something to make them think again.

This was an inadvertent thriller with a twist - the game was rubbish in terms of attack.

The Warriors' defence was magnificent, among the best I've seen from the club over 16 seasons, and their courage turned the contest into fabulous entertainment.

Referee Shayne Hayne wasn't exactly on their side, either.

But Penrith's attack was so bad they looked as though they were coached by Ricky Stuart.

That a team as dull as Penrith are second in the premiership says a lot, and not much of it good.

The best the No 2 team could come up with, playing at home against an injury-hit mid-table mob, was inept attempts at trying to tire them out.

League fans used to pour scorn on rugby, calling it kick-and-clap. But league is often crash-and-kick.

Veteran commentator Ray Warren even appears to be on a mission to inject life via mock arguments with Phil Gould.

As for genuine league playmakers, with sleight of hand and clever mind, they are getting trampled into history.

The game is hanging by a very thin thread of stars such as Benji Marshall - unique players who make the sport worth watching.

But we should also fear for what league will look like in 10 years' time when the low paid muscle-bound robots rule as the few class acts who survive the junior ranks take a hike, including a pay hike, to England or other sports.

The prospects aren't all bad, to be fair, but they are not all that good, either.

The Warriors have an extra big part to play in the NRL's future, to my mind.

If they put more faith in this country's league heritage of flair, rather than an over-reliance on metronomes from across the ditch, they could be the razzle-dazzle merchants who drag the game along with them.

As for Ivan Cleary, he's performing way beyond expectations with a depleted squad. For now Cleary deserves major applause, for the spirit he has bred in the side as much as anything.

But the coach needs to play his part in that bid for a flair-based future.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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