All Blacks back to their clin­i­cal best

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - MARC HIN­TON

Steve Hansen, of course, saw com­ing in his crys­tal ball. surely not this soon, and not de­ci­sively.

Ear­lier in the week the All Blacks coach had urged us to have pa­tience, and promised that his hot-and-cold All Blacks would flip the form switch when it mat­tered. He nigh on guar­an­teed it.

Well, how about the first clash of the sea­son against the old en­emy Spring­boks at a full (30,021) QBE Sta­dium in Al­bany? This eight tries to nil, 57-0 clin­i­cal, record­break­ing de­mo­li­tion of the South Africans was their best dis­play of the sea­son, with­out a shadow of doubt. More sus­tained than Syd­ney. More em­phatic than the se­ries opener against the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions.

It was sub­lime and scin­til­lat­ing and sen­sa­tional. Rugby of the high­est qual­ity – from one team at least.

It was the All Blacks at their ab­so­lute best. The starters laid the plat­form su­perbly and the su­per­subs came on and fin­ished the busi­ness, go­ing right un­til the fi­nal hooter.

It was also the New Zealan­ders’ fifth straight vic­tory over the South Africans, their eighth on the bounce at home and their 10th in the last 11 matchups. It puts them in a near unas­sail­able po­si­tion in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship, with their fourth straight vic­tory tak­ing them to 19 points, with the sec­ond-placed Boks stuck on 11. They can en­grave the tro­phy now.

‘‘We’re very, very proud of it,’’ said Hansen of his team’s big­gest ever win over the Boks. ‘‘We’re try­ing to get bet­ter all the time, and have been work­ing on dif­fer­ent things. We came in tonight pretty clear in how we wanted to play, and a lot of those things came off.’’

On a stel­lar night for many in black, was Rieko Ioane their best? this But this The 20-year-old con­tin­ued his bril­liant play this sea­son, adding another try and look­ing ra­zor­sharp in all he did. His 12 car­ries yielded a game-high 171 me­tres, with 11 de­fend­ers beaten.

‘‘He showed a lot of gas,’’ Hansen said. ‘‘He has be­come a crowd favourite and ev­ery time he touches the ball the whole place lights up. But he has got that abil­ity to re­ally scoot.’’

Aaron Smith and Beau­den Bar­rett were both also up some­where near their best, with Bar­rett’s goal­kick­ing ac­cu­racy (eight from nine) hope­fully si­lenc­ing his crit­ics, and his dis­tri­bu­tion spot-on. Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der, with two tries, was also busy and dan­ger­ous in all he did.

Up front the scrum sur­vived a few early anx­ious mo­ments, the li­ne­out smashed a wob­bly Spring­bok one and Sam Cane, Brodie Re­tal­lick, Dane Coles and re­place­ment Scott Bar­rett show­cased their spe­cial abil­i­ties. The bench were on the money.

The All Blacks pro­duced a magic first 40 as they pounced on prac­ti­cally ev­ery op­por­tu­nity cre­ated, ran in four tries and raced out to a 31-0 lead.

The tries were all high­light reel stuff, too, with those in­stinc­tive halves Smith and Bar­rett all over them with their cre­ativ­ity.

The first, to Ioane (his sev­enth in seven tests) came when Smith re­acted with light­ning quick­ness from a penalty, took the tap and put in a pin­point left-footed kick into space for the wing to race on to.

From there the catch-your­breath mo­ments came reg­u­larly. Mil­ner-Skud­der snaf­fled an in­ter­cept, found Beau­den Bar­rett, and then took a no-look, back-flick pass from the No 10 to fin­ish what he started; Scott Bar­rett (on for Liam Squire who failed an HIA) scored when Coles and Mil­nerSkud­der turned a short Bar­rett cross­kick into a gilt-edged op­por­tu­nity; and big Re­tal­lick fin­ished the first-half scor­ing thun­der­ing down the mid­dle to fin­ish an op­por­tu­nity cre­ated by Ioane’s speed and daz­zling feet and Coles’ fab­u­lous sup­port play.

Of course, we won­dered whether there would be a di­alling off of the ef­fort in the sec­ond hap­pened be­fore.

But this time they stayed on point, with their line in­tact, and adding four fur­ther tries over the sec­ond 40. Mil­ner-Skud­der dot­ted down for his sec­ond off Beau­den Bar­rett’s su­perb cutout pass and Ofa Tu’un­gafasi came off the half. It had bench to pro­duce a power score off the back of a short li­ne­out.

Lima Sopoaga got on the board by fin­ish­ing a block­buster run from An­ton Lienert-Brown and Codie Tay­lor com­pleted the rout off a li­ne­out drive.

At the end skip­per Kieran Read, him­self on top of his game, ad­mit­ted the nil con­ceded was as sat­is­fy­ing as the 57 scored. ‘‘The Boks threw ev­ery­thing at us in that first half, and it was a pretty in­tense half. I don’t know how we were up by so many points. We prob­a­bly got four op­por­tu­ni­ties and took all four of them. Our de­fence stayed strong and to not sec­ond half let them in over the was a credit to that.’’

A fi­nal thought: how de­li­ciously good was it to have a test con­trolled so ex­pertly and ef­fi­ciently, with­out a hint of con­tro­versy, by Nigel Owens who con­firmed his sta­tus as the best ref­eree in the busi­ness.


Rieko Ioane scores a try against South Africa at QBE Sta­dium last night.

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