Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All Blacks trounce Japan

Japan 6
New Zealand 54

Cricket score duly run up, answers and questions to various extents thrown up about some emerging players and Dan Carter and Richie McCaw played back into form - job done.

In terms of the All Blacks' objectives, most of them were met. In terms of the wider audience, well, they will have to make their minds up whether this was an exercise with any real value.

The previous two All Black tests were classics: high intensity, high skill, high tempo encounters that showcased rugby at its best. This wasn't remotely close.

It had no intrigue; no sense of drama, no real intensity and on that basis....no real point. There shouldn't really be such a thing as a development test. A development game, yes. A test, no. A test has to exactly that, not an occasion where one team can have a litany of objectives beyond winning.

In future, if the All Blacks want opportunities for fringe players, play provincial sides. Japan were brave, committed, innovative and did plenty in which they can be proud, but arguably these young All Blacks would have learned more if they had been confronted with a snarling pack of seasoned provincial stalwarts on a wet Tuesday night in Europe.
Leaving all that aside and to review the performance against the criteria the All Blacks set for themselves, they came up a little short in places.

It took the better part of 30 minutes for the All Blacks to find any kind of rhythm or cohesion, and even then it was hardly vintage. There was nothing particularly slick or polished about their work - perhaps understandably given the lack of experience of the individuals and combinations.

Charlie Piutau was the notable exception: a proper little Midas on the left wing. What's become apparent over the course of this season and was obvious last night, is that he's a footballer with a gift.

He has natural instincts that are uncannily accurate. He's not one to be frivolous when in possession. He didn't take risks; didn't try to overplay his hand and made sure that when he made his half breaks, they actually came to something.

The All Blacks needed his contribution more than they would like to admit because for the duration of the first half, there was too much going wrong.

The scrum was the biggest concern. Being shunted off the ball - as they were in the opening minutes - won't be a great tour memory for yesterday's tight five. Japan, with the best will in the world, aren't exactly a scrummaging heavyweight. They are barely even a middleweight and yet they cleaned up.

The French would have been watching that aspect in disbelief - suddenly wondering if they had just discovered kryptonite. Bottom line for the All Blacks - they need to fix up their set-piece sharpish or face a torrid night in Paris next week.

They have to fix up plenty more as well. They gave away what felt like a hundred penalties for either not rolling away or holding onto the ball. They conceded about the same number again for being in front of the offside line.

Their handling wasn't quite at the standard it has been all year, either. But there were positives. They steadily improved as the game wore on and players settled into the game and developed a better read for each other.

Sam Cane was up there with Piutau in standing out as a beacon of excellence. He's another with a natural feel for the game: someone who doesn't need to be overly coached. He ran all the right lines, made all the right moves and he is now quite clearly ready to play against any side at any ground in the world and make an impact.

There will also have been some satisfaction within the coaching box at the performance of Frank Halai. He got himself involved, enjoyed a few mazy runs where he was smart enough to keep in touch with his support and then use them. He also scored a debut try.

But most importantly his body language gave strong signals that he was comfortable with how it felt to be out there wearing a black jersey.

Japan 6 (A. Goromarv 2 pens)
New Zealand 54 (C. Piutau (2), S. Cane, B. Smith, R. McCaw, J. Thrush, F. Halai, B. Barrett tries; D. Carter 5 cons; B. Barrett 2 cons)

- Herald on Sunday

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