Richard Loe 's Opinion

Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Loe: Positives aplenty in opener

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Ben Smith flies past French flanker Thierry Dusautoir. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ben Smith flies past French flanker Thierry Dusautoir. Photo / Greg Bowker

If I was the All Black coaching staff, I'd be pretty pleased with the 23-13 win and I'd be looking to start the same 15 next test.

It was a typical All Black first time out performance but there were a fair few positives to come out of it - and I'd expect a 15-20 per cent improvement next week.

The most obvious element was the form of all the Highlanders' players. Ma'a Nonu had a big game and worried the French for 80 minutes and Ben Smith was just electric. The way he ran and made space was a highlight.

Aaron Smith hasn't looked like it all year but turned in a game that announced his return to form. It wasn't perfect but it was enough to signal that he's back.

You'd have to say that Steve Hansen was right when he intimated that the Highlanders players would shape up for the All Blacks once he got them in camp. Some people criticised him for that - but he got it spot on.

They'd even be happy with hooker where it turned out to be a good decision to start Dane Coles.

Again, he wasn't perfect - there were too many poor throws to the lineout and he got dragged off after one. But then again, we had five or six years of Anton Oliver doing that and there's plenty there to work on with Coles.

His scrum work and round the field play was good and I don't think Keven Mealamu brought that much more to bear when he came on. Brodie Retallick was another to have a big game - he did his core duties well and tackled and did some great work at the breakdown while Luke Romano was a little bit quiet by comparison.

The props did well - the French put the pressure on through their starting front row but I thought their replacement props came second to the All Blacks, particularly the South African Daniel Kotze who got done quite aggressively by Wyatt Crockett.

There'll be a few in the All Black ranks who will think they have more to do - Liam Messam, Aaron Cruden and Julian Savea was quiet too. But there were good signs of form improvement from Israel Dagg and Kieran Read went hard at the French all night; Rene Ranger added something when he came on, with his hard running.

For the French, No8 Louis Picamoles was the pick of their players though I bet he felt sick when he grassed that pass with the line open. It could have turned the test. It wasn't an easy pass to pick up but that's sometimes the difference between a shock win and a brave loss.

Their second-five, Wesley Fofana, looked all class and they'll want to brush up their defence on him.

But, all in all, it was a satisfactory first test if a little too close for comfort.

- Herald on Sunday

Richard Loe

Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Wyllie Loe was a renowned All Black forward prop who plied his trade for the New Zealand national team between 1987 and 1995. Loe was well known by fans and team mates alike as an ‘enforcer’ on the pitch, a player who balanced his abilities with the ball with a tough-tackling prowess and a penchant for physicality. During an outstanding career Richard Loe represented his country of birth in no less than three World Cups, assisting the All Blacks to a famous victory in 1987. Along with fellow team mate and captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Loe formed one of the most formidable forward lines ever to lead the All Blacks. Despite his sometimes overly physical dominance on the pitch, Loe is regarded by former team mates as being an exceptional character and professional. Following retirement from rugby Loe became a sport columnist for the New Zealand Herald, a position he still holds today.

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