Sean Fitzpatrick 's Opinion

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean Fitzpatrick: Opening game was an education for All Blacks

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Israel Dagg fends off Tonga's Kurt Morath. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Israel Dagg fends off Tonga's Kurt Morath. Photo / Paul Estcourt

What a great start to the Rugby World Cup - not so much the rugby, necessarily, but the way the tournament kicked off with high excitement and colour in Auckland.

The stadium looked great, the opening ceremony was very good and I loved John Key's passion with his "Go the All Blacks" sign-off in his speech. Hard to imagine Britain's PM, David Cameron, doing anything like that.

I've never seen a crowd like it in New Zealand. The weather was stunning, which helped, and the turnout was exceptional and really emphasised what the RWC means to New Zealand. Okay, there were some transport and crowding problems but everything about Friday night suggests this will be a World Cup of character and colour.

Everything that is being heard in the Northern Hemisphere suggests that teams like England, for example, have been complimentary in terms of the tournament so far, saying that the organisation has been good and that Dunedin has been a wonderful base.

As for the rugby, well, maybe it was a bit disappointing but we learned a fair bit, didn't we? We learned, for example, that three of the newer people on the paddock on Friday night - Sonny Bill Williams, Richard Kahui and Israel Dagg - have to be in the All Blacks' top 22 somewhere.

Dagg took his chances and adds something to the All Black effort and there's no doubt in my mind that he is snapping at Mils Muliaina's heels. Williams' value was there for everyone to see on defence and attack and Kahui did enough to show that the All Black coaches want him in their side; almost certainly the wing, barring any injuries elsewhere.

Jerome Kaino was the outstanding forward on the field. I was with (former Bok skipper) Francois Pienaar and (former England skipper) Lawrence Dallaglio and both thought Kaino was outstanding too. McCaw played well - he had real determination in his eyes - and he plays even better when Kieran Read is there. That's why Read has to be back for those last four matches or, if not, we need to organise adequate cover at No 8. I thought Victor Vito was a bit quiet.

Jimmy Cowan didn't have a terrific match but this was a game that suited Piri Weepu better.

It was a case of move the ball, a close ruck, move the ball, close ruck and so on - something that suits Weepu's style. It was different in Brisbane when Weepu started and Cowan subbed. That game was better suited to Cowan and the All Blacks would have benefited from his corner flagging and cover defence in the first half. So maybe the starting choice at halfback will be determined by the foes and the likely style of the match.

Tonga were a bit disappointing, I thought. They didn't show all that much and most who can remember their almost-won match against the Springboks in the last World Cup will reflect that they didn't bring as much to the table on Friday as they did that day.

I know some people are pointing the finger at Ben Franks when the All Blacks were trapped on their line for that long period when the Tongans opted for a series of scrums, leading to Alisona Taumololo's try.

I don't think either side really dominated the other at scrum time - work for the All Blacks to do, sure - but I'd withhold judgement until we see the scrums reffed by someone who knows what he is doing.

That passage of the game was poorly controlled - what are we doing having endless scrums and re-sets with an enormous global audience on TV? It was bad for the game and I bet referee George Clancy got hauled over the coals afterwards. The situation cried out for control and decisiveness but neither happened.

You can't blame the Tongans - they thought it was their best chance of scoring and they were right - but the situation was allowed to fester by a referee who struggled.

- Herald on Sunday

Sean Fitzpatrick

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick remains one of the greatest rugby players to have graced the game and one of the All Blacks’ most celebrated captains. Throughout his stellar he played 128 matches from 1986 up until his retirement in 1998. His 11 years of captaincy were heralded as some of the most prolific in All Blacks history, including captaining the team to their first ever series win against the Springboks in South Africa in 1996 – a record achievement in its own right.

Read more by Sean Fitzpatrick

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