Sean Fitzpatrick 's Opinion

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

Sean Fitzpatrick: First test passed, Mr Hansen

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Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty Images
Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty Images

World Cup, what World Cup? It was clear Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw had put last year's great victory on the backburner.

Last night was about putting an early stamp on the style of play they now want to use. And you have to say they got it right.

Only one World Cup-winning side since the tournament began has had a decent season the year after. That was the All Blacks in 1987, who were near perfect in 1988 and 89.

This team showed they too will not let their standards slip.

And the reason for that? Older players still producing and the very canny introduction of some new talent.

The three debutants hardly put a foot wrong. Julian Savea will get most of the headlines for his three tries on the wing, but the other two, Aaron Smith at halfback and lock Brodie Retallick, were just as important.

I sense a strong Grant Fox and Ian Foster involvement to Smith's selection. His distribution was electric, something reminiscent of a gentleman by the name of Graeme Bachop. The All Blacks of 1994-95 really benefited from his style of play.

What we may have seen last night is a mindset to move the ball quicker as a way to break down what have become very good defensive lines.

The Irish defended well in the first half in particular, and guys like Smith could be part of the next evolution in the game, a way of breaking the patterns that have strangled attacking rugby.

It may not be a whole lot different to the way we have played in recent years, but I sensed a real desire to get the ball wide more quickly.

We saw the benefits of it in the Savea hat-trick. The Irish could not seem to find a way to defend it properly.

Retallick, meanwhile, is a huge asset. The lineout operated well and it was again what we do best; mastering the basics.

With his height, he is very difficult to defend against and do we have some options there now or what? Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito, Kieran Reed and even McCaw.

But it wasn't just the young guys leading the charge, that is why last night's win was so encouraging.

Sonny Bill Williams made the sort of impact we're starting to expect of him and think of the strong form of McCaw, Reed and Conrad Smith. And I thought Dan Carter was outstanding. It even stretched to the subs. Hika Elliott went well and Ali Williams and Piri Weepu suddenly looked better than they have done all season.

So Steve Hansen, give yourself a pat on the back. The defence was excellent and even though the Irish got a bit shabby in the end, putting 40 on them is a rarity.

The Hansen era could not have got off to a better start.

- 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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