Grant Harding's Rugby World Cup Blog #7


 That the All Blacks would win their second Pool A clash in Hamilton last night was never an issue. How they would win against an inexperienced Japan combination, and what progress would be made within the squad was. From my viewpoint five levels up at a packed Waikato Stadium there were a number of positives and a few work-ons - shall we say 15 in total - for Messrs Henry, Hansen and Smith to ponder as they move towards selecting their side for the clash against France at Eden Park next Saturday.

  1. Loosehead prop Tony Woodcock played 80 minutes. The scrum improved, and was sometimes brutal. And "Woody" was sighted around the field, even making tackles late in the game. Another vital cog, lock Brad Thorn, who was under-par last week, also played for 72 minutes.

  2. While Japan were an inferior and less physical opposition to previous opponent Tonga, the All Blacks mostly stayed within their pattern, even when they emptied the bench in the second half. Captain Keven Mealamu, and winger Cory Jane were off after just 44 minutes.

  3. The post-selection withdrawals of Daniel Carter, Mils Muliaina and Richie McCaw - while regrettable - provided further opportunities for Colin Slade, Isaia Toeava and Victor Vito. Slade gave a "mixed" performance but got better as the match progressed. He has the skills, he just needs the composure that comes from regular play at test level.

  4. Two and two makes four so we'll slot No. 22 Sonny Bill Williams in here. Some appeared frightened to praise his performance against Tonga in the World Cup opener as if it might have some influence on the midfield combination of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

    Not likely. But the selectors want SBW involved, which shows they've learned a thing or two since 2007 when they left Nonu out of the squad. In a World Cup, weapons like Williams can't be ignored. Off the bench he became a test winger and collected two tries - one from a planned move, one from following a counter attack. And he collected a delicious Piri Weepu chip kick to make a subsequent one-handed diagonal burst downfield to set up a try for Nonu. When you add in defence, that's a pretty good 36 minutes, to go with a strong effort last week.

  5. Sam Whitelock showcased his ability to keep the battle with Ali Williams bubbling along.

  6. In his own way Jerome Kaino has become just as important to the All Black effort as Richie McCaw. Bruising presence on the park in both attack and defence. It feels like he is just a few steps short of the peak of his international career. That's exciting.

  7. Adam Thomson returned from the nasty arm injury which hampered him at Brisbane. A strong performance. Memo to selectors: Strong but he is not a No. 8. Seven was also the number of clean line breaks made by the All Blacks.

  8. It was good to see Victor Vito get another opportunity. Going in and out of the squad does nothing for a player's confidence. He will be a top All Black with continuity of selection. But Kaino's move to No. 8 when Vito was subbed in the 57th minute will have the three wise men assessing their options. Eight was also the number of tackles missed, which showed a vulnerability when Japan, who recycle so quickly, could hold the ball. A work-on. More positively  "8" is the mark Graham Henry, who lamented a few forced passes, gave his troops. That was about right.

  9. Well done Andy Ellis. Pistol passing, trademark midfield running support play, reasonable kicking game, authoritative direction and communication with Slade. But nine also stands for handling errors in this match. Another work-on.

   10. The All Blacks claimed a total of 10 lineouts, including three on the opposition throw. But they also lost    three lineouts. A definite work-on with much bigger and skilful packs ahead.

11. After performing superbly on the right wing against Tonga, Richard Kahui swapped to the left wing without any apparent loss of form. Four tries in two weeks is a fantastic start towards the honour of leading scorer at the tournament (And Jonah, looking in superb condition, was there to watch).

        12. Ma'a Nonu. The man is the fulcrum of the backline. On fire.

13. The number of tries collected by the All Blacks on the night. No team in world rugby stretches their legs as successfully as often as "New Zealand's Team".

14. The number of substitutes used by the All Blacks in their two matches to date. Only Mils Muliaina, Zac Guildford and Kieran Read have yet to get game time.

15. Will either Israel Dagg or Mils Muliaina recover from injury to play at fullback next weekend? Or will Isaia Toeava, who performed well last night, or even Cory Jane take the 15 shirt?

- Hawkes Bay Today

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