Wednesday, October 03, 2012

ABs put on show to crow about in La Plata

OPINION: What a splendid occasion, and what a splendid performance from the All Blacks in La Plata yesterday as their backs finally joined the party and helped produce the most complete display of the inaugural Rugby Championship.
It was really pleasing to see the backline respond. The pack in general has been very good all season. The backs have had their moments but they've been inconsistent.

They were very, very good yesterday as they scored all seven tries in a record-breaking win. They used the ball with width and played with a real attitude. They took on the advantage line, their workrate was outstanding and the skill level just brilliant. The work they did at the breakdowns and gain-line was very impressive.

Ma'a Nonu had one of his best games, Dan Carter was outstanding, Aaron Smith was sharp and Julian Savea and Cory Jane were brilliant at finishing the opportunities they were given. Conrad Smith and Israel Dagg weren't quite as prominent, but it didn't matter. It was good to see some of the players who hadn't been dominant previously step up and play so well. The forwards also played their parts, but this time their hard work and platform possession was not wasted. It was good to see.

From the moment Nonu made his break after Richie McCaw secured a kickoff, the All Blacks never looked back. They finally gelled and their game clicked.

At last you could see the game plan they've been hammering away at finally materialising. You've got to credit the coaching staff and players for sticking at it. They've worked hard, they've persevered and it paid off. We saw how well it can work when they get it right.

I liked the way they executed off set piece, their kickoff work was great, the lineout functioned very well and the scrum, against a good scrummaging side, was superb all night. Defensively they were sound too, even though they conceded tries at the start of each half.

The link play and passing of the forwards was also impressive, and some of the offloads were quite special to watch. It all worked well as the fluency finally came into the All Blacks' game.
Maybe it needs to be put into context. When you run up a big score like this sometimes the quality of the opposition has got to be questioned. But in this case I think the quality of the opposition was good - just not at the level of the All Blacks.

I think it's important we pay credit to what Argentina has brought to this Rugby Championship. It's easy to overlook their contribution because of the way they were dismantled in this game, but I would urge against that.

The reason the All Blacks were at their very best was because the occasion, the stadium and atmosphere were so good, and also because the opposition had played really well previously.

The All Blacks were on edge for this game. You could see it when they arrived on the bus as they were walking to the changing-room - they knew they were in an environment where they were going to be tested.
In many ways, the performance we saw was all due to the introduction of Argentina to the championship. Though they got hammered, they have something vital to offer this competition.

So now we move on to the Springboks in Soweto, and what a finale it could be.
What impressed me most about their big win over the Wallabies in Pretoria was the performance of their loose trio. They outplayed a pretty competent Wallaby unit, with Francois Louw outstanding.

The Boks looked so much better with Johan Goosen at 10. When the game started, he was playing too deep, but once he got confidence, he flattened out and the outside backs got the ball with time to do something with it.

Even though the All Blacks have got the championship in the bag, the challenge has definitely not gone. They're on a 15-test winning streak and won't want to have that snapped . They also won't want to give South Africa confidence and will want to stay on top of them.

This game will still be a huge occasion. It holds a lot of importance for the All Blacks, in a lot of different ways. Even though the championship is wrapped up, I still think we'll see a pretty special contest.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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