All Blacks back to their clinical best
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.