RYAN VREDE watched New Zealand reaffirm that they are their biggest threat to finally ending their World Cup agony.
Who will beat this All Blacks side? France was vanquished from the list of contenders tonight at Eden Park. None of their northern hemisphere counterparts have a price either. Any threat will come of familiar foes, Australia and South Africa, but even they will struggle to repress this brilliant team.
As the whistle hailed the start of this eagerly awaited contest – with the energy generated by an inspiration rendition of Kapa O Pango still coursing through the stands – France played 10 minutes of outstanding football. They were repelled by the Blacks, who then produced an emphatic rebuttal that underlined just how far ahead they are of every pretender.
It was over as a contest after three tries in eight minutes, each breathtaking in its execution and featuring moments of the very highest skill level, the finest from Ma’a Nonu in crafting their second. He is a player transformed since his fallout with the Hurricanes. However, it would be remiss to discount the galvanising effect the emergence of Sonny Bill Williams has had. Rugby’s poster boy has injected a freshness into what was becoming a stale product. The Blacks’ coaching staff will be infinitely more grateful that he has done the same for Nonu.
There were others who shone. Dan Carter, outside of a careless pass that was intercepted, played like the rugby deity he is, off the back of a brutal performance from his pack. Richard Kahui’s rugby intellect is stunning. Israel Dagg vindicated his selection ahead of Mils Muliaina. He is undoubtedly the best fullback world rugby. Richie McCaw, in his 100th Test, reminded of his class. Sonny Bill Williams, with his unique repertoire of skills, is rugby’s answer to Cirque de Soleil.
With the exception of Kieran Read, the 22 coach Graham Henry selected tonight is his best combination and one without rival in the game.
That is, unless a team can resist them and begin to pick away at mental scars they wear every four years. In addition, Henry must now abandon his rotation policy and pick this side for the remainder of the tournament. This was his 99th Test as a coach. Surely now he must see the value in continuity in to selection at the World Cup.
If they remedy these ills (and keep their key players fit) there is no team on in this tournament to match them. Certainly Australia have the capacity to trouble them with their smart and innovative attack, but they lacked the physicality to set the platform to do this consistently. The Springboks won’t be bullied in this manner, but then are devoid of the Wallabies’ attacking skill. The Springboks’ routs of Fiji and Namibia shouldn’t be allowed to distort the perspective that those are opponents of significantly lower defensive prowess when compared to the Blacks. For all their panache in this match, to watch the Blacks live is to witness their defensive power, organisation and anticipation. Nothing the Springboks have offered on attack in the last two years will concern them.
This is their tournament to lose.
By Ryan Vrede, at Eden Park, Auckland