The high-octane game of the All Blacks and their expertise and often brilliance in transferring the ball in very confined areas was enough to see them home in a generally pretty satisfactory first-up win at RWC 2019. At the same time stymieing the always ready to steam-up to thermo-nuclear levels, national rugby angst-o-meter.
The management won’t be happy with a few of the scrum wobbles, most noticeably late on in the first half, but ‘Beau’unga’ (a Dylan Cleaver-ism) showed promising signs. Will reserve a final judgment on that until the knock-out stages. Beauden Barrett is so extraordinarily classy it just about would not matter where you asked him to play. The guy is such a talent he’d probably be a brilliant halfback were he put there. He is on his way to being an all-time NZ rugby great, if he is not already.
Anton Lienert-Brown probably put to bed the argument over whether he or Jack Goodhue should start at centre. I know Goodhue is an almost God-like figure in the eyes of some punters, but there is surely night and day between their overall abilities. And it was a smart move going with Crotty to start as a foil for Mo’unga. Thank goodness also the experiment of picking Crotty at centre ended some time ago.
George Bridge gets better and better, but Reece may get found out gradually. There’s little denying his startling acceleration and Teflon-like abilities, although is he really in the class of Ben Smith or Rieko Ioane? Beau’unga is obviously a lock now- so it seems dumb to leave both those two world-class players getting splinters on the pine or all dressed-up in their Number Ones with no place to go.
Of course we’re all wanting Guzzler Retallick back, but Scott Barrett adds another dimension as an extra loose forward. When/if Retallick comes back his selection is almost a fait accompli, nevertheless expect Barrett not to give up his spot without a big fight. Sam Whitelock might conceivably be a little nervous about his name as a lock-in.
The overall defence was excellent. Nepo Lau’lala adds something to the close quarter hitting. The early second-half tackle by Mo’unga on the insanely quick Kolbe deserves to be legendary. It’ll likely never enter lore like Peter Whiting’s corner flag clean-up of Boland Coetzee from another era, but it ranks as a covering tackle alongside the one John Kirwan made on Wales’ Ieuan Evans in the 1987 World Cup semi-final in Brisbane.
The kicking game was on point; there weren’t many needless hoofs that invited counter-attacking trouble. New Zealand will have to go PC to win this World Cup. P for Possession and C for Control. The backs can have their fun only when those tenets get properly established first. Hansen is nobody’s fool, so expect him to encourage this strategy, even against the minnows over the next three matches. Because the more rehearsals and finely-oiled systems the ABs have and get right before the knock-out games, the better.