Piri Weepu repays coaches' faith
Steve Hansen didn't wait for the cue to mention his halfback, though it was all he could do not to say the words he must have be thinking.
After a year of heavy criticism, mostly warranted, Piri Weepu finally produced a test performance of note during yesterday's 51-22 win over Scotland.
For Weepu it was confirmation the early morning gym sessions and dietary sacrifices have been worthwhile, that his body can still co-operate with the wishes of his mind.
For Hansen it was ammunition for a defence that had begun to wear thin for many.
"His job was made easier by a bloke who's come under a lot of criticism," Hansen offered when asked to comment on Dan Carter's virtuoso performance.
"I thought Piri Weepu was outstanding in the 60 minutes he played."
And he was, the reincarnation of a player who had been missing in action since last year's Rugby World Cup semifinal win over Australia.
It's been a long road to retribution and the sceptics will say: "It's only Scotland."
That's partly true but you can play only what's in front of you and, to be fair to the Scots, they matched the All Blacks in passion, but not skill and execution.
Whatever the case, Weepu has some confidence to build on and some satisfaction that he's repaid some of his coaches' faith.
"It might have taken me half the season to repay them but I'm just happy they have given me that opportunity and I've made the most of that against Scotland. We'll have to wait and see what happens after that."
Encouragingly, Weepu spoke in hushed tones about his performance saying he had simplified his approach, blocked out his critics by focusing on the basics and "just playing footy".
The 29-year-old realises this is a beginning, not an end and said he still has goals to achieve on and off the field. The former is clearly to reclaim the No 9 jersey in Cardiff and London.
Aaron Smith has had a stunning season but, for the first time in his short career, is under some real pressure from his rival. He was poor in Brisbane and will be keen to start against Italy. Weepu has certainly grabbed his backs coach's attention.
"I thought it was the best game I've seen him play for a long time," Ian Foster said after the tour opener.
"The things he's been working on he did very well. He was quick to the ruck and we know if he's quick to the ruck and focuses on clearing the ball well the rest of the game [comes]."
Foster credited several tries directly to Weepu's decision making, and first five-eighth Dan Carter agreed.
"He's played a lot of test match football and that really showed tonight.
"He picked his moments to go and his organisational skills were fantastic."
And so the tour winds its way to Rome where one can assume Smith will be back in the starting spot.
Of the two new caps, hooker Dane Coles was the better, full of energy as he ran hard at holes and pulled in some difficult passes.
Contrastingly Tawera Kerr-Barlow made a nervous start with a kick out on the full and a wild pass, a performance that may see him come off the bench again against Italy.