Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: No one else has Daniel Carter and Ma'a Nonu

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French did their best to give All Blacks the sense they are kings of the park.

Richie McCaw became the first New Zealander to play in 100 tests for his country. Photo / Greg Bowker
Richie McCaw became the first New Zealander to play in 100 tests for his country. Photo / Greg Bowker

If the French are trying to lull the All Blacks into a false sense of security, they did an outstanding job on Saturday night in the Rugby World Cup pool clash.

Rugby's men of mystery played the plot to perfection, hurling their best shots at the All Blacks in the opening stanza to legitimise the contest before falling away. Coach Marc Lievremont was perfect, banging a fist on the table in fury and looking genuinely exasperated. The French even consoled themselves in a non-threatening manner, scoring tries with an opportunism a political spin doctor would be proud of.

What a way to celebrate the 100th test of the magnificent, incomparable Richie McCaw. Two-thirds of this match produced, from the All Blacks, among the most complete of any World Cup displays although a couple of French replacements and the effects of a lopsided scoreboard put the game in neutral during the second half.

Thank goodness for the Springboks, because without their promising form we would be forced into declaring that the All Blacks will win the Webb Ellis in a canter.

This sort of outrageous arrogance is not allowed in hosts with the most in terms of famous World Cup failures.

The Australians are dog tucker on this side of the Tasman and are dallying with disarray. The Northern Hemisphere teams are subtlety-free. No one else has Daniel Carter and Ma'a Nonu. Springbok muscle and their history of rising to the occasion loom as the only serious threat.

The All Blacks produced one of the finest of all World Cup performances on Saturday night and Carter, who has been off colour and injured in recent times, was close to his best.

Rating this as a World Cup highlight is easy, because there haven't been all that many down the years. The joys of the first tournament gave way to more cynical and cautious tactics, as television reruns before this tournament showed. In contrast, New Zealand's attack was scintillating on Saturday night as Northern Hemisphere rugby's chickens came home to roost in the form of a battered rooster.

The All Blacks will be confident they can return any northern assault with plenty of interest, although there was a stagnant period in the second half when Graham Henry would have recalled how World Cup campaigns go horribly wrong.

Still, a psychological hurdle has been overcome although this hardly ranks as revenge of any substance because the French flogging will count for less than nought if the All Blacks finish this tournament empty-handed.

There are a couple of concerning injuries and despite a scrum dominance against the starting French pack, the All Blacks later faltered in power and delivery of the ball.

The supposedly technically challenged Wyatt Crockett, the overlooked Crusaders loosehead, might have mulled over wry thoughts as Tony Woodcock was repeatedly penalised by Alain Rolland.

The All Blacks are rip-roaring favourites with South Africa left as the main hurdle. The Boks will have strong support at Eden Park, the world's best goalkickers with a range of 60 metres, and forwards such as Gurthro Steenkamp, super-sub Bismarck du Plessis, Heinrich Brussow and Schalk Burger in rollicking form. They know how to win World Cups, unlike the All Blacks.

Barring weird catastrophes, this World Cup will be decided in a semifinal between the All Blacks and South Africa although the potential rogue result awaits in the quarter-finals because Australia has the wood on South Africa.

So what beats the All Blacks? Wallaby coach-in-waiting Ewen McKenzie wrote last week about finding stress points in opponents. Carter, at first receiver, is almost untouchable, but the blowtorch has not been applied to Nonu. Nonu is the X factor and the man most likely to emerge as the tournament star.

His running power has never been in question but his positional instincts and composure are now superb.

In the lead-up to this tournament, the fabulous Australian inside back Tim Horan, a double World Cup winner, talked about the rare days in his career when it felt as if his boots were barely touching the ground. Nonu must know what that means. Count me in as a Nonu doubter who has turned into a big fan.

He is cutting teams to ribbons, but his temperament and handling under pressure have not been challenged.

If given the chance, the Boks will try to uncover the Nonu of old.

The tournament is there for the All Blacks to lose, and any team hoping to sink the favourites will need to turn the mighty ship Nonu around by reducing his front-foot ball or confidence.

I don't fancy their chances.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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