Imposing: New Zealand’s All Blacks perform the haka to Argentina before their Rugby Championship match at AMI Stadium in Christchurch. Photo: Reuters I was asked recently whether back-to-back World Cup wins could be on the cards for the All Blacks. The follow-up question was a cracker. They have an ageing team, do you think they will have the legs through to the end of October?
My response drew immediate laughter, because if you ever underestimate a champion team it will bite you where the sun don’t shine.
To answer the first question, yes, but then you throw in the variables.
A back-to-back result has never been achieved. Then there are the anomalies on the way – shock losses, pivotal injuries, even stage fright – that can all see dreams fade away.
To answer the second question: old legs? Maybe, but what they do have is an abundance of talent.
Just look at the Test against the Pumas; a trio of Smiths didn’t take the field on Friday night nor did Julian Savea.
Now, I have to ask are any other teams going around in world rugby that strategically omit star players and still put an impressive outfit on the park. The answer to that is no.
That coach would feel the wrath of the public and inevitably be making his own noose.
Mind you, there are four players with more than 100 Test caps and one in the 90s. Now there is some direction.
Yet the personnel that you bring in sometimes not only has parity with those before mentioned players but could well be perceived as a stronger combination, and sometimes a different skill set. Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams in the centres scare off just about any opposition, but I’m sure Conrad Smith sits comfortably on the sideline watching these guys run around.
I think the incredible legacy this team has is that no player is bigger than the jumper, so that when the coach rotates positions, it is taken with a grain of salt. There seems to be a bigger picture of what will benefit the group.
It shows that these players are by no means expendable but more so invaluable to the team because of their belief in the system and within themselves.
That is a luxury that the Wallabies don’t have right now and so too just about every other team in world rugby. Everyone is striving to find their best XV.
So what do you take out of the AllBlacks victory on Friday night.
Patience would have to be the first point. The score was 11-6 just before half-time and I bet Argentina would have thought if they can just get into the sheds five points down that would be great. But a Nonu try dashed those hopes.
Then there is the old call of points before half-time and just after and why they are so crucial.
The 42nd minute saw Charles Piutau dot down and six minutes later veteran Keiran Read crosses the strip … game over for the Pumas. With that patience comes experience.
As I said, there were four centurions in this side and every bit of their nous gets drawn on at crucial moments.
Yet it’s about getting opportunities for those who are racking up the numbers, remembering that here is a team littered with World Cup winners.
So in theory the opening game of the Rugby Championship was in fact just a tough hitout rather than the edge-of-your-seat thriller.
The All Blacks, however, were pushed at times especially in the scrum, but we knew that. Argentina crossed the line twice, so it does show that their defence is penetrable. You just have to find the way to get there as there are no easy options.
The second point is their ability to increase the tempo of the game. It has long been a trait of the men in black. I experienced it, as did teams before me and this current crop will cop the same pressure. Sometimes there is no way of stopping the beast.
What the game did show with the omission of Aaron Smith and Savea is their importance to the team. Smith is the power button. He ignites the attack and drives the forwards.
His passing speed gets the momentum going. He is the key to this team. If you have any chance of shutting down the All Blacks, limiting the impact of his game is paramount. Easier said than done.
The other is Savea. His running ability is setting new standards inrugby.
His carries are so effective, dominating the contact area and he has an innate ability to get across the chalk. Combine this with Aaron Smith and there are strong influences close to the ruck and on the width. He is formidable in every way.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.