THERE was plenty to savour in the Bledisloe Cup match from Yokohama while there’s plenty to look forward to in the All Blacks-Japan clash this Saturday in Tokyo.
1) Ardie Savea: Talk about seizing your chance. A late illness gave him a shot at No.8 in Buenos Aires and he grabbed it with a phenomenal effort. He was a match winner in Pretoria, and scored a clear points victory over Michael Hooper in Tokyo.
2) Beauden Barrett: We can only presume he has put in extra time on his goal kicking, because since Wellington it has been spot on. Kicking out of hand was mostly, if not all good, but everything else was BAU (Barrett As Usual) in other words brilliant.
3) Codie Taylor: Has been outstanding all year, despite a demanding workload, and was again an absolute nuisance to the Wallabies. In the end Tolu Latu lost the plot, delivering a slap, to which Taylor responded with a push and then, ultimately, Latu’s unwise face push that resulted in a (harsh) yellow card and ended any hopes of a dramatic late Aussie comeback.
4) Samu Kerevi: He’s not the complete midfield back by any stretch but boy can he scatter bodies. The best sight for Michael Cheika’s eyes in some time. There is still some hope yet for this team.
5) Ben Smith: There is something utterly admirable about the way Smith takes on whatever role is asked of him. Didn’t cut them to shreds but made a lot of important dabs and touches.
6) Reiko Ioane. Scorching. A try waiting to happen.
The Not So Good
1) The surface at Yokohama International Stadium is not fit for World Cup duty. It is normally a football ground and appears there is not the grass-soil structure in place to cope with one game of rugby let alone the three most important games of a tournament in one week. The Japanese are very good at sorting things out, and hopefully by next September it will be up to scratch.
2) Romain Poite. Again.
3) The doomsayer focus on the empty seats. 46,000 is the biggest crowd ever to watch a rugby match in Japan. There are unlikely to be any empty seats for the games at Nissan Stadium in a years’ time. Could do with a bit more atmosphere, however.
Questions to be answered in the coming weeks
1) Is SBW still the real deal? I’ve long been a fan, and have always stuck up for him in the face of some at times quite irrational criticism, but he is not firing on all cylinders right now and needs to show he still has the chops. At present the best midfield combo appears to be Crotty and Goodhue but they will still want “the big fella” to prove he deserves to be in the mix.
2) Can the Wallabies come right? Italy should be dog tucker but Wales and England will tell the story.
3) Can Dane Coles make a successful, full comeback to his old self? If he does, then New Zealand will have arguably the best one-two punch at hooker the game has seen in a long, long time.
4) Can the All Blacks now lay down the ultimate marker? Wins over England and Ireland would keep the pack at arm’s length going into 2019. The key will be striking a balance between control and risk-reward.
5) Saturday in Tokyo against Japan might seem like a side show to some, but for a number of players it’s an open invitation to state a case. And for one or two, the last chance saloon.
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