By The Spotter
The pride in being an All Black is nigh on insurmountable. And make no mistake, that reversal in Chicago would have hurt and grated like hell. So as a result, in that game this morning those fifteen (or twenty-three) guys in black jerseys were going to do whatever it took to win; and if that included making the odd head-high tackle, stopping attacks from the breakdown with stray, offside hands or in other bordering on nefarious acts in quelling attacks, we shouldn’t really have raised our eyebrows all that highly.
Were they cynical? Rather too often. Was it right or justified? No. (of course winning is important, but perception is a biggie, too). Did they lose lots of new UK friends they made during last year’s World Cup? Quite probably. Would they care about that? Who knows? Did we (myself included), jump the gun on lauding them as being almost our best-ever? Well, yes. Were they desperate? More than ever. Being members of the first All Black side to lose to Ireland in 111 years would have been all the motivation they ever needed for the return game. Not to mention the added motivation of the Hamner earthquake and the first anniversary of Jonah’s passing.
Heaven help us if Retallick or Whitelock had been ruled out again. Those two are literally and figuratively the engine room at the moment. They were beyond immense, particularly in front-on defence.
Jamie Heaslip out-beasted Read by quite some margin (and have you ever noticed how quite alike they look)? And if Sean O’Brien were a racehorse we’d ask for him to be swabbed, that’s how good he is in open play and at the breakdown.
It was the defensive patterns of the All Blacks, their seemingly unmatched levels of fitness and their ability to conjure something out of nothing that got them their win. Take a bow on that last point for a number nearing infinite, Beauden Barrett.
And boy, Aaron Smith is often playing like his mind is still somewhere in Christchurch Airport. That awful, loopy pass to nobody across the face of our goalline after Ireland re-started after the first try, was a real black mark and not like the Aaron of recent years. Sure he likes the odd loopy pass out into the region of the centres, but he is usually a lot more discretionary about it. As well he got himself put in the bin.
Along the lines of hasty decision-making the other Smith, the frequently flawless Ben, committed what I thought was a bad misjudgement (and symptomatic of a careless, almost arrogant habit of the All Blacks these days), when instead of kicking long downfield or for touch around the 56th minute with Fekitoa in the sinbin and the Irish hammering away at our defences, opted for turning back in towards Ireland’s hungry loose forwards in an effort to link up and start an attack. Lost possession and an Irish penalty was the outcome. Just when is it going to be ok to sometimes admit defeat in the occasional situation and hoof the bloody pill to relative safety? Fifteens is not Sevens and after all we do have a high-quality and usually uncompromising defensive screen.
A bit of All Black magic was enough for a comfortable-enough margin at the end. The last try was a great sight. Any other team would have struggled to match the dexterity of hand in the passing and catching for that final score.
A hard-arsed match it certainly was. An uncompromising revenge was exacted, but deep down and in the dead of night, would they somewhat regret the manner in which they had to play to secure the spoils? I wonder…
What do YOU think? Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org (Paul)