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Keith Quinn: All Blacks nearly there against timid Irish


By Keith Quinn

Published: 7:30AM Tuesday June 12, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

Last week, I said right here that Steve Hansen the new All Black coach nearly got it right with the selection of his first 30-man All Black for the year.

Now the same squad has had their first outing and has posted an impressive-looking score of 42-10 in beating Ireland. So how should the All Blacks be judged on their first showing?

Well, to this observer, I reckon the team nearly got it right again, so that's good.

In parts of the Eden Park game, the New Zealand team played with excellent determination and go-forward. At other times, there was dithering about and the game seemed to too easily halt its forward thrust.

At the end, the score looked good - I mean 42-10 does have a nice solidity to it, but I have to say the Irish team, for all of their bluster during the week, wasn't of the highest of recent Irish quality. Just where were their tough guys?

I always expect Irish rugby teams to come snorting and stampeding onto the field, pawing at the ground in their gnarly old boots and charging with wide-eyed fury at anything on the field that isn't wearing green. This team didn't do much of that at all.

Compared with the likes of Willie Duggan, Moss Keane, Willie Anderson and Keith Wood of the last 20 years, last weekend's mob in Auckland were positively mealy-mouthed.

I remember one time, we were in Dublin for a test match and hooker Wood was so steamed up against the All Blacks, he forgot to take his wrist-watch off and played with it at full passion for fully six or seven minutes! Another time, Duggan handed the touch-judge his cigarette to hold "until halftime"

On yet another occasion, Keane was once exhorted by the Irish coach to "take out" his opposite number in no uncertain manner. Moss enquired "Do you mean take him out just for today - or for good?"

I mean these were tough men.

This year's lads in emerald green didn't show the same fire in the belly. Of course the World Champion All Blacks should put 40-points on them.

I did like the efforts of the three debutante All Black, especially Brodie Retallick for his total commitment only to tight-forward play. Not for him the airy-fairy out-wide antics of some forwards in the squad I could name.

And speaking of Ali (and Piri too), did any of us learn anything new about those two reserve players' modest form this year? Not much I'll be bound.

In fact, all I'll wager is that the 42-10 score is enough to be the further distancing of the Crusader's halfback Andy Ellis from making the team this year. Ellis has been playing his backside off in the Super 15 for the Crusaders this year, building on the beautiful and smoothly oiled halfback/first five combination he has with Daniel Carter.

Among the good things they've done is play superbly in the 59-12 win over the awful Blues and a 51-18 win over the promising Highlanders. But apparently Ellis was "playing behind a winning pack" and that's a fault to some these days. So he isn't in the New Zealand team.

Meanwhile, Weepu has looked out of shape and out of sorts for the awful Blues, but he gets in because the selectors want to be a panel of "trust", says new selector Grant Fox. Weepu leads a good haka, I guess, and Ali Williams also does a good "white man's" version.

I know it's silly and preposterous, but from the outside, it does look like if you play for an awful team, but you do a good haka, you can get in the All Blacks on previous reputation. But if you expertly guide a pack to wonderful winning displays, like Ellis has done, then that's not impressive enough to gain eye-catching "trust".

Me? I'd have Ellis in the squad at halfback, with the engaging and performing Aaron Smith alongside him. Next in the halfback pecking order would be Wellington's T.J.Perenara and then I might think of Piri ahead of Brendan Leonard.

Meanwhile, last Saturday, we found a winger at last. Julian Savea was a fine finisher and nabbed three very good tries.

Savea has made enormous progress this season. Honestly, last year, you wouldn't have blamed the Powers-that-Be in the Hurricanes if they hadn't have contracted him for the new season.

He was woeful last year, especially under the high ball, and was part of the wayward Hurricanes of 2011. Now, he's played a significant role in a test match and had all of us self-appointed historians caught out trying to recall the last time there was a triple-try test debutante All Black. Turns out it was Sitiveni Sivivatu v Fiji in 2005 - and he got four!

So, all in all, it was a good start by New Zealand. They nearly got everything right against a modest Irish team.

This week, in Christchurch, I hope the selectors invite Andy Ellis along to keep in touch with the lads of the team. If there's an injury to either Smith or Weepu, maybe Ellis will be nearly next in line to get a call up.