By LAURIE MAINS, Sunday News
Sunday, 08 June 2008
I was fortunate to be the coach of the All Blacks when arguably the country's greatest captain was at his peak.
And on Saturday night I was thrilled to see Richie McCaw put in a Sean Fitzpatrick-like effort in the All Blacks' first test of the year.
And on Saturday he was so inspirational as the All Blacks got up to beat what was a pretty good Irish side.
It was unfortunate for the All Blacks to have their first test of the year in the wet.
It does make it a lot harder to get your combinations working and to get rhythm into your game.
Having said that, it was a pretty typical first-test-of-the-year performance.
The All Blacks used a lot of pick and goes as they attempted to put pressure on the Irish in close. That's something we haven't seen a lot of from the team under this coaching panel. But credit must be given to Ireland.
They defended tenaciously and looked dangerous at times. There was a high error rate in the first half. Some of it can be attributed to the weather but players at this level are supposed to be able to rise above that.
But again, in the first test of the year, mistakes are inevitable.
It was satisfactory performance. The team played with a lot of emotion and they will be happy to have won. But there is plenty to work on, which is normally the case after the first outing of the winter.
It's too soon to judge areas of the game like the new-look front row and loose trio. Saturday night, with those conditions, wasn't about that. It was about hard work and winning.
And the All Blacks did both.
In the buildup to the test it was clear there is a lot of apathy regarding the All Blacks.
And certainly it is unheard of for Westpac Stadium not to be full for All Blacks tests and even Super 14 games.
Given the number of empty seats at the stadium there are some serious issues.
I can understand people's disillusionment with Graham Henry's reappointment when there were better options for the job.
But at the end of the day this is our national game, and despite what we felt about the coaches, we do have to support the All Blacks.
It must be said, though, that the blame for the apathy regarding rugby lies at the feet of Steve Tew and the NZRU board, who could have avoided the negativity by not making the decision they made late last year that only they understood.