New­bies earn praise in tough ini­ti­a­tion

Manawatu Standard - - Sport - MARC HIN­TON IN LYON

Six new men can now call them­selves All Blacks, and many more have ratch­eted up their ex­pe­ri­ence lev­els on the back of a chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing night of in­ter­na­tional rugby in Lyon.

That, aside from his post-game lament on the in­flu­ence of sta­dium big-screen op­er­a­tors, was the main take­away from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen af­ter his sec­ond­string lineup did ex­ceed­ingly well to hold on for a 28-23 vic­tory over a fired up French XV at a packed, and loud, Groupama Sta­dium.

Jack Good­hue, who had to shake off a bout of the mumps to make it on the tour, made an ex­cel­lent fist of his All Blacks de­but at cen­tre, never mind a con­tentious late sin­bin­ning.

And five oth­ers came off the bench to notch their first ap­pear­ances in the black jersey. Prop Atu Moli, loose for­wards Akira Ioane and Dil­lon Hunt and halves Mitchell Drum­mond and Richie Mo’unga join the spe­cial club.

Luke White­lock also led the All Blacks for the first time, in just his sec­ond ap­pear­ance in to­tal for the New Zealan­ders. Nu­mer­ous oth­ers took just their sec­ond or third steps on this jour­ney.

‘‘I’m very proud of them,’’ said Hansen af­ter­wards.

‘‘The num­ber of caps we had [140 in to­tal] showed how much lack of ex­pe­ri­ence we had. Luke led them very well all week, and they played some re­ally, re­ally good rugby.’’

Hansen rat­tled through more or less the whole pack when asked about his how he thought his new, young faces had fared.

‘‘Ev­ery­one put their hands up. You’re talk­ing about Jeff Toomaga-allen, you’re talk­ing about Tim Perry who had ham­string prob­lems and was only 80 per cent but played ex­traor­di­nar­ily well.

‘‘Nathan Har­ris stood up, Dom Bird had prob­a­bly his best game in the All Blacks jersey, Pa­trick [Tuip­u­lotu] was re­ally strong, Ardie [Savea] is start­ing to en­joy play­ing 80 min­utes ... you could go right through the group. I think ev­ery­body did what we asked them to do and en­hanced their rep­u­ta­tions.’’

Hansen was rapt with his pack’s scrum­mag­ing ef­fort, which was book­ended by an early tight­head and a game-clinch­ing shove from hell.

‘‘The con­fi­dence that will give some of those guys you can’t buy. It proves how good a ma­gi­cian Crono [Mike Cron] is. He’s turned Ofa into one of the best tight­heads around, and Atu has been a tight­head all his ca­reer and af­ter a short pe­riod we’ve got him go­ing well on the loose­head. Then Asafo comes on and is part of that [last] scrum.’’

Hansen in­di­cated Liam Squire might have done enough to play a test in only four days, de­pend­ing on the big plan, and his own re­cov­ery.

‘‘He was re­ally good, he was phys­i­cal, pun­ish­ing with his de­fence and was dan­ger­ous out wide. He’s not far away...’’

Hansen also had some spe­cial

words for Taw­era Kerr-bar­low who led the haka in what may be his fi­nal All Blacks ap­pear­ance with his tour-end de­par­ture for La Rochelle.

‘‘He’s been in out­stand­ing form most of his All Blacks ca­reer, and has al­ways given us some­thing to

think about ... it was a great per­for­mance, com­posed, and, apart from one pass, the rest of his game was out­stand­ing.’’

The coach also lauded the ben­fits of the fix­ture, not just as a much-needed money-spin­ner for New Zealand rugby (this and the

Baabaas clash could con­trib­ute more than $4 mil­lion to the na­tional cof­fers), but a de­vel­op­men­tal tool for the top-end of the Kiwi game.

‘‘The big­gest bonus was the fact these guys got to play two games, and out of the Bar­bar­ians there

was an op­por­tu­nity for five of them to come join us

‘‘We have been able to pre­pare some younger men not only for to­mor­row, but be­yond. There’s a lot of talk about 2019, but some of these guys may not get their op­por­tu­nity till af­ter ‘19.’’

"Ev­ery­body did what we asked them to do and en­hanced their rep­u­ta­tions." Steve Hansen, All Blacks coach

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