Rugby Union: Insipid All Blacks appear homesick: Unheralded Services show their worth

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The Independent Online
Combined Services. 3

New Zealand . . .13

THE All Blacks are at the fag-end of their tour and last night's insipid farewell by their midweek team at The Rectory suggested that Sunday, when they fly out of Gatwick, cannot come soon enough. Astoundingly, most of them did not look as if they particularly wanted to make the first team against the Barbarians on Saturday.

One would hesitate to call any New Zealand side demotivated but this lot made so many elementary, unforced errors that it was the only conclusion to come to. Whether the Services warranted the fixture had been extremely doubtful when the game was in prospect; in retrospect, thanks as much to the All Blacks' inadequacy as their own splendid indomitability, they more than proved their worthiness.

To take a comparision that is unflattering to the All Blacks, the 1988 Wallabies - not remembered as a great side - put 40 points on Combined Services and, embarrassingly for these Blacks, this was the least heralded opposition they had encountered in 12 matches on tour. The Services had two internationals, Rory Underwood and Rob Wainwright, lost another - Tim Rodber - through injury and otherwise were made up of utterly unsung heroes.

But, for a brief while, they even led. The New Zealanders spent most of the first half encamped in Services territory but invariably something, whether a dropped pass or a crunching tackle, disturbed their rhythm and, after Shane Howarth had missed two penalties for the Blacks, Steve Worrall lined one up from near half-way and had the temerity to kick it.

It did not last and eventually Howarth put New Zealand ahead with two penalties before half-time though he missed another early in the second half. You could hardly say the All Blacks were lucky but at the same time they were mightily relieved for some respite after the blows, some self-inflicted, that have rained on them in recent days.

The defeat by England, experienced by only Eroni Clarke of last night's team, put additional pressure on the second string and further gloom had been cast by Jamie Joseph, who was subjected to

unspecified internal discipline for stamping on Kyran Bracken's ankle at Twickenham.

The Blacks took more than an hour to breach the Services defence. Everything they tried, until Norman Hewitt finally made it, was

destroyed by ferocious tackling,

especially in midfield where Gavin Sharp, David Sibson and the rest waited until they could see the whites of the All Black eyes before sending them crashing to earth.

Even the move that led to Hewitt's try seemed to have been halted when Marty Berry ran into a heavy tackle after being set up by Preston, Bachop and Stensness. But for once the New Zealand forwards worked the ball clear and Preston, Bachop, Clarke and Howarth combined to their hooker's benefit and Howarth converted from the touchline.

Combined Services: Penalty Worrall. New Zealand: Try Hewitt; Conversion Howarth; Penalties Howarth 2.

COMBINED SERVICES: Cpl P Hull (RAF); Cpl S Bartliff (Army), SAC G Sharp (RAF), AB (S) D Sibson (RN), Fl Lt R Underwood (RAF); Flt Lt A Johnson (RAF), Sgt S Worrall (Army, capt); Cpl A Billett (RAF), Capt J Brammer (Army), Sgt J Fowers (Army), Cpl R Armstrong (RN), Sgt B Richardson (RAF), Fl Lt C Moore (RAF), L/Cpl G Watson (Army), Capt R Wainwright (Army). Replacement: L/Sgt S Berryman (Army) for Watson, 34.

NEW ZEALAND: S Howarth (Auckland); E Clarke (Auckland), M Berry (Wellington), L Stensness (Auckland), E Rush (North Harbour); S Bachop (Otago), J Preston (Wellington); M Allen (Taranaki), N Hewitt (Hawke's Bay), G Purvis (Waikato), B Larsen (North Harbour), R Fromont (Auckland), L Barry (North Harbour), J Mitchell (Waikato, capt), P Henderson (Southland).

Referee: D Davies (Wales).

Neath moved into second place in the Heineken First Division last night after a 71-10 victory over Pontypool. Trailing 10-0 after 12 minutes, Neath ran in 11 tries, including a hat-trick by Ian Boobyer. Paul Thorburn added 21 points with eight conversions and a try.