Jack the lad one out of the box for All Blacks
JACK Goodhue is a man who epitomises why New Zealand produces so many good rugby players.
If researchers examined his DNA they’d find family genes that give him strength, speed and a keen mind.
If they then checked out the effects of environment they’d discover a copybook Kiwi rugby upbringing.
As a kid in Kawakawa in the far north the United club was like a second home in winter for his Dad, who, brother Josh recalls, ‘‘mowed the grass, organised the registrations, and took the rubbish to the dump’’ for 20 years.
As well as the parental example, add in having three rugby-mad brothers, playing backyard touch games in winter and summer that could spin out for a couple of hours, and the platform for Goodhue’s All Blacks test debut last night was as deeply traditional as No 8 wire and fibro baches at the beach.
Which helped to make the midfield combination of Goodhue and Sonny Bill Williams the most fascinating aspect of one of the most radical side selected since Steve Hansen took over the coaching reins.
Williams is a hugely gifted athlete. But his football muscle memories were formed playing league. His Achilles heel in rugby can be cross-code confusion, like shoulder charging Lions player Anthony Watson last year and being redcarded, or slapping the ball over the dead-ball line in Paris in November and being yellowcarded. Legal when he played league. So illegal in rugby it could cost a test.
In a weird series marred by cards and constant controversy, this test was weird too. For 40 minutes the French played in a way that spectators love, and opposing teams must hate, tackling hard, running wild and cutting angles with the ball. Then they capitulated, and played so limply only their mothers could love them.
With Williams and Goodhue it was still reassuring in the opening minutes to see them first combine on attack, Williams slipping a short pass to Goodhue, and then joining to shut down a promising run by Benjamin Fall.
The pity in many ways was that, as the game freed up, and the All Blacks started to run wild in the second half that Williams had to leave the field with a shoulder injury.
As the French tired, and their commitment flagged, it would have been a perfect chance for Goodhue and Williams to show what they can do with space.
Even so, earlier in the test, when France were still competitive, the only black mark came in the 28th minute when Wesley Fofana somehow wriggled loose from a low Goodhue tackle, and dived over for a try.
Williams has been out for so long, it was slightly remarkable that in the middle of an early neck-and-neck battle, he was still sharp enough to make some metres, and clear thinking enough to not be tempted into wildly firing the ball he was holding in one hand into danger zones.
Goodhue meanwhile, was generally as calm and GETTY IMAGES determined as he is when playing for the Crusaders. There’s a line in unselfish, unspectacular, intelligent centres in the All Blacks that runs back through Conrad Smith to Joe Stanley.
As to who is ideally suited to the crucial first-five position, Damian McKenzie will keep that argument raging.
There were blemishes last night. A short drop-out, a couple of risky feeds that almost sent Frenchmen away for gutwrenching intercept tries.
But when McKenzie, the original fly in a bottle on attack, gets it right, bells, whistles and brass bands sound.
If his first try involved slipping into a convenient space provided by referee John Lacey, his second was a field of dreams moment.
This side was a risky All Blacks selection on paper. On the field they proved again that this is as smart a panel as we’ve ever had picking the national team.
Sonny Bill Williams on the burst for the All Blacks against France in Dunedin last night, with Jack Goodhue, left, in support.