Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Few teams could have matched All Blacks

The next challenge is two months away when the All Blacks and Wallabies start the Rugby Championship with home and away tests. Photo / Getty Images
The next challenge is two months away when the All Blacks and Wallabies start the Rugby Championship with home and away tests. Photo / Getty Images

There was Black Caviar at Ascot and Hamilton, twin sporting delicacies to delight enthusiasts and aficionados.

While the mare squeaked home, the All Blacks lapped Ireland with a brand of high-octane, high-skill, power rugby which few teams could have parried.

There was a devastating thrust throughout the All Blacks as they completed a 60-0 whitewash to leave Ireland with a 12-year headache before they tour New Zealand again.

This was an All Blacks side stung by comments about their form a week ago, picked over at the selection table and urged to make their skills count on a crisp night at Waikato Stadium.

They collected nine sumptuous tries and, just as pointedly, kept their own line intact - twin efforts which coach Steve Hansen could not split.

"They have taken the bullet between the teeth and come out and played a marvellous game of rugby," he declared.

"For us it was very pleasing and very humbling to be part of it."

There were harsh words after a mistake list in Christchurch which showed 24 avoidable penalties and errors.

The key thing his side learned, Hansen said, was that if they turned up with the right attitude and genuine preparation - "and by that I mean bone-deep, you can't allow your subconscious to think you have prepared well" - then there was talent in the squad to damage a lot of sides.

The next challenge is two months away when the All Blacks and Wallabies start the Rugby Championship with home and away tests.

The All Blacks will trim their squad to 28 for that series with Richard Kahui a non-starter as he undergoes more shoulder surgery today.

Cory Jane is scheduled to return soon after his ankle strain, Victor Vito and Charlie Faumuina in several weeks, but Ali Williams and another locking prospect, Anthony Boric, have much longer injury standowns.

Form and casualty lists in the three remaining Super 15 rounds, then playoffs, will be a factor in the Championship squad selection.

Three tests down and three victories have seen new men introduced to test rugby with strong results.

Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea have all delivered, with Smith the key operator in the team's style. Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith have reinforced their pedigree after previous brief stints.

A revamped coaching staff has felt the tempo of test rugby.

"We'll refine that on reflection as well and get better," Hansen said. "We are a new team and we've hit the road running reasonably well. We are not the finished article and we will stay humble and stay with our feet on the floor and keep working hard."

There will be tasty selection debates like the choice between Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu at second five-eighths.

Williams was the form player while Nonu had been given a chance to bounce back and would know he had a fight to get his jersey back.

"What I see are two world-class second five-eighths, and throw Conrad [Smith] in there and you have three of the best midfield backs in world rugby," said Hansen. "It's just how we are going to use them."

The All Blacks were aggressively accurate throughout Saturday night.

Attitude equalled defence, said Richie McCaw, that was where his side made the biggest shift. Even 10 minutes from the end they were talking about not letting Ireland cross their line.

"It is great fun to play the game when you get both parts of the game working like that," McCaw said. "Seven days ago how you play the game was not a whole lot different. It is just making sure that you are on the edge and you only need to be off by a couple of per cent and it's a whole different ball game."

- NZ Herald

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