Jack the lad one out of the box for All Blacks

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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