{{notification.message}} {{notification.action}}

Awesome All Backs Baffle 'Boks


Awesome All Backs Baffle 'Boks

Awesome All Backs Baffle 'Boks


AARON Smith has got his mojo back.

Yes, there was a lot of star quality in that All Black performance, but Smith’s performance was masterful.

The All Blacks first try of the night is case in point.

A penalty near halfway, in a spot that would have prompted most teams to hold a committee meeting to decide whether to go for goal or kick for the corner.

Smith, in a flash, noticed that Raymond Rhule, a player completely out of his league in test rugby, was nowhere to be seen on the Springbok defensive right.

He darted to the mark and tapped, and then put in a perfect chip kick for Rieko Ioane to chase, gather and dot down for the opening try of the test.

Yes, Ioane had a bit to do, and yes, Rhule as a defender is about as much use as a one legged man at a bum kicking party, but what Smith did was brilliant both in terms of instinct and execution.

I’ve watched a bit of college rugby over the years and noted how kids given star status at school can either sink or swim when stepping up to the big leagues.

And there have been too many would be half backs or first fives amongst them who can only pass properly off one hand, and who can’t kick with both feet. No matter how good they are, they are not going to make it to the very top unless they knuckle down and learn to do it both ways.

Smith is a natural right footer, but used his left boot to set up the try. It was a thing of beauty that would not be possible but for hours of practice.

Of course it’s his awareness too. He seems to have a pass from team leadership to judge a situation and if it’s on, take the tap. He did it against the Lions to set up the Codie Taylor try in the first test.

The sweet irony is that in this Rugby Championship the All Blacks have veered away from the kicking game that has served them so well in the six years since Smith came into the team. His box kicks for the likes of Ben Smith to get after were central to the All Black game plan.

But now they are trying to take the game to a new velocity, and its much less about high or long kicking, and much more about kick passing and hand to hand.

On Saturday at Albany, despite a bit of moisture about, that game plan clicked properly for the full 80 for the first time, and the Springboks copped it.

They wouldn’t have been able to do it without a forward pack that recovered from an early scrum wobble and a couple of breakdown turnovers to master a big South African pack that had been boss in its previous six tests this year.

It could have been worse for the Boks too.

Neither the refs nor the TMO took any notice of a shoulder charge by Franco Mostert that left Liam Squire dazed…a shot not too dissimilar to the one that saw Sonny-Bill Williams red carded in June.

There is no question the Springboks have been a better team this year, albeit one with some glaring weaknesses out wide in defence and an unshakeable determination to run at defenders, rather than try and find space around them.

They just happened to strike an All Black team that finally flicked the switch.

Smith was outstanding, Beauden Barrett was a whole world better with his kicking, Reiko Ioane ran rampant, while up front Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick in particular were instrumental in outpointing the power Springbok forwards.

What was also encouraging was form off the bench, with Scott Barrett showing he can handle the No.6 role comfortably, and Ofa Tu’ungafasi starting to show us just what it is that has prompted the selectors to keep picking him.

The Rugby Championship is not quite in the bag. It should be after the test in Buenos Aires, although there is again an element of risk in leaving a bunch of headline acts at home. The last time the All Blacks went into a test without either Sam Whitelock or Brodie Retallick was in Chicago last year - just saying.

But even so, the renovation of the All Blacks two years out from the World Cup has taken an important step forward.

Finally, a bunch of other things from the weekend:

  1. A morale booster for the Wallabies, and another exceptional performance from Australia’s best player Kurtley Beale.
  2. Same time, Australia lose another one this way with Tyrel Lomax shaking his ties in Melbourne to play in the home country of his father, former league international John. He was allowed by NZ Rugby to turn out for the Makos on Saturday which was only fair, given they’d lost Tim Perry to the All Blacks for live scrum practice.
  3. Who saw Wellington beating Canterbury at all, let alone by that much? It proves two things: one that you can’t take your eye off the ball for one minute in the Mitre Ten Cup, no matter how strong your roster is, and two, that Wellington are brewing something special.
  4. How long before Wellington have two hookers in the All Blacks? Asafo Aumua looks a pretty good bet to be the apprentice on the All Blacks November tour.
  5. Nothing at all to do with rugby, but I’ve got to get this off my chest. My daughter loves The Block and so I watch it with her sometimes. After Sunday night it should be renamed The Crock.