Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: How good? All Blacks second best could roll the rest

All Blacks fans at the All Blacks and Argentina Rugby Championship test match at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. Photo / Jason Oxenham
All Blacks fans at the All Blacks and Argentina Rugby Championship test match at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Financially, it's probably not the best option for New Zealand Rugby to take tests away from our major cities but, time and again, Hamilton delivers a great occasion.

Waikato Stadium was full for the All Blacks' battle against Argentina and the playing surface must be considered one of the best, if not the best, in the country.

The reason I mention this is because I was standing during the anthems, looking around at the crowd dressed up and singing and thought, 'Boy, New Zealand rugby is in a healthy state'.

The crowd were also respectful and cheered Argentina to a degree, and then they cheered home the All Blacks, and they needed that support because they were under pressure for long periods.

Contrast that to the empty seats at Suncorp Stadium for the Wallabies v Springboks test, or the test between the All Blacks and Australia in Sydney.

The difference is stark.

A lot of people will say what a great impact the bench had, but I think it was still combined with excellent performances from starters such as Ryan Crotty, Brodie Retallick, Ben Smith, Julian Savea, Israel Dagg and Sam Cane, before he went off. Also, if you re-watch the test, focus on the performance of Jerome Kaino. He was outstanding.

It again reinforces how much depth this team has. The All Blacks' second team could probably beat the other top four teams in the world.

But the Pumas quickly got the respect of the crowd - and the All Blacks - because they came to win, rather than restrict them.

They were very good at the breakdown and made it difficult for the All Blacks when the home side had the ball. They were also very good when they had the ball. The All Blacks have excelled this year at being disruptive there, but they've been able to do that while not having to commit defenders.

They couldn't do that on Saturday. All the Pumas forwards carried strongly and demanded attention. Because of the threat of the pick-and-go, the All Blacks had to gravitate to the ruck and, as a consequence, Argentina got in behind them. They really caused the All Blacks headaches.

Another point I want to make is around the replacements - TJ Perenara and Charlie Faumuina came on after 49 minutes, which is earlier than usual. If the coaches had a plan to get them on early, the state of the game didn't deter them.

You have to have courage to take off halfback Aaron Smith, a player Lions coach Warren Gatland recently described as the All Blacks' best and most instrumental.

It just shows the trust and belief they have in their players, and those decisions helped change the game.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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