Nine talking points from the All Blacks' win over the Springboks in their Rugby World Cup opener.
As Corporal Jones might have said, "Mr Hansen knows what he's doing"
We're a long, long way from the final, but as a statement of intent in the 23-13 win for the All Blacks over South Africa was a great start. The aura of invincibility, which had apparently, according to our media friends in the north, been shredded, was always a bit of a journalistic construct anyway. But if there is such a beast, then, in dry conditions, that will hopefully last for the rest of the tournament, playing against these All Blacks will loom as a scary prospect. Yes, the 2019 team looks more experimental than the side that won four years ago, but Messrs Hansen, Ian Foster, and Grant Fox have selected a squad that has a fresh, fearless look about it, epitomised by the stunning interchange of passing, spatial awareness, and courage to, as they've said so many times in the Hansen era, to play what's in front of them, that led to the Scott Barrett try in the 26th minute. As he plunged over between the posts the game was basically won.
Walking (actually running, but that's not how the song goes) in light, we're walking in light
One of the reasons even a non-New Zealander might have enjoyed the 2015 World Cup was that the All Blacks played a game that involved running the ball. In passing, if you ever want to lose the will to live, hunt out a video of the 2007 final between South Africa and England, which saw two teams determined to smother all that's exciting in the game. South Africa kicked five penalty goals to England's two, and trust me, the match was even more boring than that sounds. The victory in Yokohama to the All Blacks was a triumph for daring and darting over boot and bludgeon. Of course I have a bias, but we saw flashes from the All Blacks of rugby as the game they play in heaven.
Perhaps that's why they call it faffing around
Faf de Klerk is usually a terrific halfback, but he had a nightmare display. With the Springbok game plan revolving around kicking, it was essential he got enough hang time on his box kicks. Most of the South African forwards look like they have night jobs as bouncers at a bucket of blood night club, so if you give that ravaging horde a chance to get some speed on, catching the ball in front of them is going to be dangerous and painful. But de Klerk's kicking was weak and short, sometimes putting as much pressure on his own players as on the All Blacks.
Yes, it was gutless
Calling a decision by a referee "pretty gutless" probably isn't the most diplomatic phrase. But Kieran Read was dead right when he summed up the 21st minute ruling by referee Jerome Garces to not, at the least, give a yellow card, or, at the most, award a penalty try, when Boks' wing Makazole Mapimpi lay over the ball with the All Blacks on hot attack near the South African line. If Garces had to penalise Mapimpi for breaking the rules to stop what was an almost certain try, how on earth could a penalty be the only punishment?
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Ardie Savea has been a sensation all season, and the way he played in Yokohama his form is far from flagging. Back in 1987 Jones was one who lit up the World Cup. Savea, a runner who usually requires two, if not three, men to halt him, should do the same in Japan.
Bless Kevin and Robyn Barrett
If ever a quote deserved to be true, it's a line attributed to Kevin Barrett when he retired after 167 games for Taranaki: "I'm gonna go breed some All Blacks." Beauden produced his usual quicksilver magic in Yokohama, but just as impressive was the display from bother Scott. Barrett taking over from Brodie Retallick offered, according to many critics in the lead-up to the test, a weak point in the All Blacks. In response Scott Barrett tackled like a demon, and made the world a happy place for locks everywhere when he galloped in for his try.
During the week, in a fascinating 15 minute interview with Simon Barnett and myself on NewstalkZB, 1987 World Cup captain David Kirk noted that in '87 the coaches demanded he get the ball to his midfield as fast as humanly possible. "I know with one off, or two off, runners they now don't feel as compelled to clear the ball really quickly. But with rush defences I think moving the ball at speed, to give your midfield extra time, has become very important again." The Boks worked furiously to slow All Black ball, but while the All Black pack was smaller, it was also more athletic, and as the game went on the breakdown battle moved to the side of New Zealand, which meant the All Black backline had the space Kirk talked about.
World in harmony?
Having been accustomed to beautiful renditions of the national anthem, from 1999 when Hinewehi Mohi bravely sang in te reo at Twickenham before a pool game with England, to this year when we enjoyed the stunning baritone voice of Moses Mackay, from Sole3Mio, it was very strange before the Yokohama game when the only voices we heard were the All Blacks themselves. As singers they make very good footy players, although, if it was any consolation the Springbok captain, Siya Kolisi, was so stunningly flat he made some of our players sound like Roy Orbison.
And then there was Spark
When I signed up months ago at a Spark shop for a World Cup package the very pleasant assistant I dealt with said, "I don't think this will work, and if it doesn't I hope I've got enough sick days stored up to keep out of the shop when angry people come in. You know the worst part? The guy (managing director Simon Moutter) who set it up has buggered off and will be long out of the country if it hits the fan." In hindsight I wish I'd asked him if he had any more startlingly accurate World Cup predictions to offer.