Phil Gifford analyses six talking points from test rugby in the weekend.
SORRY TO MENTION YOKOHAMA, BUT…
The Fijians played in Dunedin like the northern hemisphere professionals they are. This wasn't a carefree South Seas outfit looking to run the ball from anywhere, but a seasoned group who make their living on the grey, dark paddocks of Newcastle, Gloucester, and Agen. Any resemblance to Fiji's superstar sevens teams was limited to surnames and physical stature.
For 60 minutes, before the All Blacks brought on veteran subs to round out the game 57-23, grim flashbacks of the night in Yokohama in the semifinal of the 2019 World Cup, when England beat the All Blacks 19-7, kept popping into the mind.
It wasn't just that the All Blacks lost in that semi, but that they were dominated physically, which, for a team that draws on a long, staunch line from Colin Meads to Buck Shelford to Jerome Kaino, was a pill so bitter some of us are still struggling to digest it.
With 14 of the Fijian squad playing club rugby in Britain and France, breakdown and mauling work, sharpened by the expertise of Crusaders' scrum guru Jason Ryan, was often a step above what the All Blacks were offering.
As Sir Graham Henry once wisely pointed out, the difference in style from the north to here isn't just a matter of attitude.
"When you're playing very often (in Britain) in wet weather, teams get very good at tight, driving play," Henry said.
As much as most of us love the running and try scoring of Super Rugby, it may be that it doesn't lend itself to sharpening the brutal, close quarter skills that are at the heart of northern rugby.
WHO DO WE MISS THE MOST?
No question there. Richie McCaw, a once in a lifetime flanker, and Jerome Kaino, who between them usually made the breakdowns a playground for the All Blacks.
McCaw played every test with an intensity that was almost supernatural. How fanatically did he concentrate on the ball? In 148 tests he threw one punch, and that was at the fat halfwit who ran on the field and assaulted referee Dave McHugh in a 2002 international against South Africa in Durban.
Kaino? Like McCaw he was quietly spoken and impeccably well mannered off the field, but once the whistle blew he was a stone cold destroyer. He may be the most under-rated All Black of the last 20 years.
SO, WHAT CAN THE ALL BLACK COACHES DO?
They can hope that by the end of the year Sam Cane has made a full recovery from the brutal chest tendon injury he suffered in May. Amongst all New Zealand's current loose forwards he's the one with the greatest ability to forage at breakdowns, where he's able to do what a great flanker from the past, Graham Mourie, called "having your body going at a million miles an hour while your mind is as calm and focused as if you're sitting in an armchair."
More immediately, they could give Akira Ioane the biggest chance of his career, by picking him for the Hamilton test, and drilling into him, at every available opportunity, that he has to use his massive strength to not only run hard with the ball, but to also clear away, over and over again, Fijians competing at the breakdowns.
IT'S ALMOST AS IF HE NEVER LEFT
There were plenty of candidates for outstanding All Black, from Sevu Reece, at his dancing, dynamic best, to Dane Coles coolly taking four tries off lineout drives, to David Havili, back after an horrific 2020, when emergency bowel surgery in March was followed by a broken thumb in July.
But when it came to answering the call of duty I can't go past Brodie Retallick, who hasn't played at this level for almost two years, but adjusted to the extra pace and physicality by getting more and more involved as the test wound on. What he and Sam Whitelock offer in every aspect of play is the rock on which the All Blacks pack is built.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Step forward please Fijian blindside flanker, Johnny Dyer.
Dyer's rugby journey is diverse and interesting. He grew up, his father told the Fiji Times, dreaming of becoming Jonah Lomu. To chase the game, rather than tertiary education, he left school at 16 to drive heavy machinery at the Vatukoula gold mine north of Nadi. There was a stint in South Canterbury, where in 2016, as a No.8, he was voted the supporters' club player of the year. But he was 27 before becoming a fulltime professional in France, first for Racing 92 in Paris in 2019, and now for Biarritz.
His work rate in Dunedin was extraordinary, and in a test where penalties at the maul were a constant feature he managed turnovers without triggering referee Paul Williams. Nullifying Dyer in particular will be a key to the All Blacks commanding next week's game in Hamilton.
A PROFESSIONAL WILL USUALLY BEAT THE AMATEUR
As they did against the All Blacks, Tonga offered huge heart against Manu Samoa at Mt Smart. It was a terrific effort to be behind just 6-3 at halftime.
But when Samoa, stacked with battle hardened professionals, clicked into top gear, the final score of 42-13 was inevitable. The harsh reality is one huge effect of the rugby Diaspora from the Pacific is that winning tests, like the game at Mt Smart, is basically dictated by how many players the island nations can get back from overseas clubs.