Phil Gifford lists six talking points from international rugby in the weekend.
EVEN JONAH DIDN'T START THIS WELL
In a few years we may have only vague memories about most of the details of the 60-13 All Blacks victory over Fiji in Hamilton. But the debut of hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho should still be crystal clear.
Not every newcomer takes to test rugby as if he was born to the role. Even the great Jonah Lomu had two mediocre tests against France in 1994 before he stunned the world at the '95 World Cup.
But Taukei'aho's cameo on Saturday night carried all the requirements the All Blacks need as they regather themselves after the disappointment of the 2019 World Cup.
He has power and energy to spare. Taukei'aho is basically a big bulldozer in a jersey, if a bulldozer came with afterburners to hit top speed in a couple of metres. He's a bruiser, and the good thing for the All Blacks is that he's their bruiser.
His backstory is inspirational. Touring New Zealand in a Tongan school team, he was spotted by St Paul's College in Hamilton, who offered him a scholarship. He arrived in New Zealand in 2013 as a 15-year-old who only spoke Tongan. By the time he left school he was not only a merit student, but was also enrolling at the University of Waikato as a law student. St Paul's Andrew Gibbs, his rugby mentor, says of Taukei'aho, "What sets him apart is his character, his leadership and his focus. He's a good man."
He'll turn 24 next month, with five seasons of Super Rugby with the Chiefs under his belt, so Taukei'aho is no wide-eyed rookie. The future ahead could hardly look brighter.
CALMING THE HOUNDS AT THE DOOR
Being the All Blacks coach is at once the ultimate and the worst job in New Zealand rugby.
If the guy's team is winning most love him, but if there are any signs of failure he finds himself a limping wildebeest pursued by a blood thirsty pack of media and on line predators.
John Hart's defence of Foster during the week brought back some uncomfortable memories of my own. When Hart was the All Black coach few were as vicious about him as I was, in print and on radio.
Did I go too far? Definitely. Should I have drawn a line between trenchant commentary and personal attacks? Yes. What triggered recollections of my own unfortunate behaviour decades ago is that ripping Foster to shreds on his All Black record to date is based on the most bizarre first 18 months any All Black coach has ever battled through.
Covid-19, as any sentient being living on this planet must surely know, has changed everything, and the weird cluster of games in Australia last year was no exception.
If his team can continue the improvements they showed between the first and second tests with Fiji, and if they can win handily against the Wallabies in a fortnight at Eden Park, then Foster should be able to continue the year with a back relatively free from knives.
WHEN FORM MATTERS
Sevu Reece's international career was showing signs of stuttering until he found himself this week playing against the country he was born and grew up in. (In passing, the humour between Reece and the Fijian players has never been better expressed than, in what must surely be a first for test rugby worldwide, a Fijian player kissing Reece on the cheek while Reece was doing a post-match interview.)
In Dunedin Reece was a firecracker, and in Hamilton he was a try-scoring machine. The bonus with Reece is that as well as speed, and footwork like a world champion breakdancer, he's strong too, as much bigger men can find to their embarrassment if they get a head-on tackle slightly wrong.
NOT EXACTLY EASING BACK INTO IT
No wonder Ardie Savea said that his lungs were the sorest part of his body after the Hamilton test.
After tearing a ligament in his left knee playing for the Hurricanes in the middle of April, his reintroduction to test rugby was a full, oxygen-sucking 80 minutes. That he was able to be so dynamic (his dive for a try right on halftime was a reminder of how athletic Savea is) with such a lack of match play is a tribute to the commitment he gave to his rehabilitation.
I'M WITH MEHRTS
Andrew Mehrtens was almost beside himself over the red card for Australian wing Marika Koroibete in the fifth minute of what would ultimately be a nail biting 33-30 win over France. As a player Mehrtens used to joke that he talked a lot to referees "because I know I'm right."
He was basically kidding then, but watching a dozen replays of the Koroibete tackle on French captain, Anthony Jelonch, I think Mehrtens was 100 per cent right to question the decision by Kiwi referee, Ben O'Keeffe.
Koroibete's shoulder hit Jelonch in the upper body, not the head, but the Frenchman's head jerked back from the impact. Scary, but surely not illegal. Jelonch is a young captain at 24, but he doesn't lack street smarts, grabbing his face, which hadn't been touched, in apparent agony once he'd hit the ground.
I'm with Aussie coach Dave Rennie too, when he said of Jelonch's behaviour, "It was terribly milked wasn't it?"
NOTHING WRONG WITH A HEART ON THE SLEEVE
The 37-15 scoreline indicates an easy enough victory for Manu Samoa over Tonga in their 2023 World Cup qualifier against Tonga in Hamilton.
The gruelling reality was in the leaps, hugs, and the joy that the Samoan team expressed when they won a second half penalty after Tonga, when the Tongans, down 20-3 at halftime, had blazed back to be down just 23-15 after 56 minutes, and were seriously threatening an upset.
Samoa, as they have so often in the past, will rattle big name teams in their World Cup pool. England will be too big a mountain, but Japan, Fiji, and a qualifier from the Americas shouldn't be impossible targets.