By Scott MacLean
Hookers: As expected Dane Coles saw the bulk of the playing time, only sitting out the Namibia game. Showed greater commitment to the tight stuff against the ‘big’ nations but also got his time in out in the tramlines too. Lineout throwing was much improved and clearly our top rake. Keven Mealamu bowed out having added six more caps to his tally, all off the bench in relief of Coles, simply doing the job required of him, which sums up his lengthy career in the black jersey. Codie Taylor had just the one outing, playing the full 80 against Namibia where he notched his first test try in a competent display.
Props: Tony Woodcock didn’t get the fairytale finale, invalided out of the RWC with an injury sustained against Tonga. His commitment couldn’t be faulted but struggled again against Argentina and the time is right for one of the 2011 heroes to step away. Owen Franks started five games with a bench outing against Georgia. Emptied the tank with his impressive workrate each time for the hour (at most) he was on the park, though his scrummaging was concern at times. Charlie Faumuina was deployed as Owen Franks’ relief in the four big games, each time shoring up his side of the scrum well and winning the critical scrum penalty late against Australia. Fitness and mobility remain his issue if he aspires to the starting role. Wyatt Crockett was slated for the same job as Faumuina but was thrust into the starting role when Woodcock went down only to suffer injury himself against France and missed the last two games. Not as penalty-prone as previous, but also unlikely to be part of the next cycle. Ben Franks started against Namibia and came off the bench against Tonga where his penchant for giving away silly penalties remained. Injuries got him on the bench for the semi and final, and on both occasions kept himself out of trouble. Lastly, Joe Moody answered the call when Woodcock went down, and went from ITM Cup to starting the semi and final where he delivered two fine performances, coming on top of coming off the bench against France. His offload for the final try in that game was something special.
Locks: For all the talk of only taking three locks, it turned out hard to see where a fourth would have been used. Brodie Retallick regained his best form and the mantle of the world’s best; dominant in the air, with ball in hand and in the physical stuff. His chargedown of Freddie Michalak set the tone for that game and all over the Boks and Aussies in the crunch ones that followed. Sam Whitelock deserves special mention for starting all seven games, getting breathers only against Namibia and Tonga. Not as prominent as Retallick but did his best work at lineout time where he was a key cog in the feat the side enjoyed on opposition throws. Luke Romano was sparingly used seeing only a full game against Namibia and 50 against Tonga where he was solid but clearly a peg below the other two.
Loose forwards: Richie McCaw – well… what more can be said? The G.O.A.T. is still at the peak of his powers and once again dispatched all pretenders to his throne. Hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time is a fitting end – announcement pending – to his magnificent (and that word is an understatement) career. Kieran Read endured a curious RWC. Did his off-the-ball jobs as well as ever but his hands turned to stone whenever they met the ball. The heir-apparent as captain will have some doubters to prove wrong in Super Rugby. Like Whitelock Jerome Kaino started all seven games, and once again showed he’s a man for the biggest stage; and just as he was in 2011 was an immense physical presence and the games preeminent enforcer. Ably filled-in in the unfamiliar role of lock when called upon when the subs rolled on. Sam Cane still saw plenty of game time despite being McCaw’s backup, including captaining the side against Namibia. Not as physical as the great man but certainly quicker, he continued to show that he has the makings of being a worthy successor, albeit one likely to be measured against the unmeasurable. Victor Vito had limited opportunities, with just the one start against Namibia and a handful of bench outings, but two of those came in relief of Kaino in the quarter and final where he did the anonymous jobs well; while Liam Messam was barely seen, making one brief appearance against Tonga and more notable here for getting a scolding from Nigel Owens in the quarter-final when on waterboy duties.
Tomorrow; the backs
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