Monday Aug 23, 2010
Rugby has rarely been better to watch, if ever, and this re-built All Black team is already among the best ever.
The All Blacks were magnificent, nullifying South Africa's famed home advantage and finishing them off with two late tries that should rank high in any memory that can cope with the cluttered modern day test schedule.
As for the Springboks, they are in even bigger trouble than we thought.
If that's the best the world champs can come up with in a home colosseum while celebrating John Smit's century of tests, then they are indeed one large tank skidding out of control down one very steep hill.
No wonder Smit sank to his knees after Ma'a Nonu had created Israel Dagg's superbly taken winner.
The Boks had a lot of initial huff, then ran out of puff. They were clearly second best, even if it did take a late score to prove this.
As a devoted critic of the All Blacks' last World Cup campaign and, subsequently, the deplorable treatment of Robbie Deans, I gladly concede that Graham Henry is doing a brilliant re-building job, aided by the crucial rule-interpretation changes which encourage skilful ball work by making defenders struggle at breakdowns.
His supporters will have growing feelings of vindication.
Henry's new All Blacks have a remarkable poise and nose for victory.
These All Blacks are also taking the game further as a spectacle, with far more to come when players such as Dagg are fully integrated into the deal.
The note of caution must be that so much relies on Richie McCaw's presence. He is, without a shadow of doubt to my mind, the best player rugby has seen - as in the most effective - for a very long time. Perhaps ever.
If it came to picking a world combination of the past 40 years whose sole mission was to win a mythical game, R. McCaw should be the first name on any team sheet. His all-round game is extraordinary to behold.
McCaw's ability to work the rules and delay opposition ball saved a try in Jo'burg, and his corner-flag finish to score the late leveller was truly exceptional (although poor officiating failed to spot a blatant All Black forward pass).
Rugby is bristling, and again the credit goes to Henry and his team. They are showing the rugby world how to play, in a way that probably only Australia would match if they had more power.
Remembering rugby from the past is like remembering New Zealand life long ago. Both had their charms, but overall - and with the benefit of hindsight - they were a bit of a bore.
The highlight reels, on television and in the mind, play wicked tricks, turning them into magical days.
Watch those old matches in their entirety for the whole truth, nothing but the truth. The game of yesteryear staggered about, littered with interruptions. Few teams - the Auckland side of the late 1980s and early 1990s being one - could rise above the dross.
That's all we knew at the time, and loved the whole charade.
New rugby is the real deal.
The ball handling under brutal pressure is exceptional. The repeated collisions between massive men is frightening. The all-round skill and athleticism is stunning, an example being Brad Thorn's crucial diving tackle yesterday morning.
Surfaces are better, way better, and the balls user friendly, unlike those slippery bricks we hurled about back in the day.
We used to drool over revolutionary prop Steve McDowall throwing a long pass, but now every tight forward can do that, as Tom Donnelly showed with his try-creator for wonder wing Tony Woodcock.
The test game needs more long range breaks and open field running, a la the All Black tries at Soccer City.
Apart from that, the game is in fine fettle the All Blacks' way, with a healthy balance between set pieces, collisions, passing and kicking.
The world champion Springboks are not in good health though, and desperate changes to their line-up failed to find victory.
The South African Rugby Union are bonkers if Peter de Villiers, the fake coach, remains in charge.
Luckily for their World Cup opponents, South Africa's rugby administrators are so immature that a few rough on-field decisions get them barking about quitting a multimillion- dollar broadcasting deal they've only just extended.
The Boks may improve when influential halfback Fourie du Preez returns, although Francois Hougaard was lively yesterday.
From this distance the calm du Preez is the logical captaincy replacement for the fading Smit, although the well-liked No 9 has a retiring personality.
Coach de Villiers lacks the authority to clean out the old guard and make tactical changes. He is groping in the dark, and his latest backline was too lightweight for the modern rugby battle. Their battle plan is confused.
The Springboks went overboard with the Smit centenary celebrations pre-match.
The front row legend could not put the icing on his party cake, failing to get out of a waddle compared to the dynamic work of Keven Mealamu.
South Africa, with vast playing resources, is suffering for failing to take the job of national coach seriously enough.
The All Blacks - Tri-Nations supremacy fully restored, in style.
WHAT TO WATCH
The Warriors and Broncos at Mt Smart Stadium on Friday night - expect a ferocious battle for a top eight place.
By Chris Rattue