Newbies earn praise in tough initiation
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 they have all dreamed of wearing since they were young.
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.’’