OPINION: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will not share the view that the June test window is a needless addition to rugby's already crowded calendar. Not this year, at least.
Ireland's embarrassing capitulation in Hamilton will provide ammunition for those who believe Super Rugby should take precedence over an IRB enforced schedule that clearly pushed the tourists' resources beyond their limits.
Wales, England, and France, at their best, maybe, but one can only cringe at what a three-test series with Scotland or Italy might look like in years to come.
Post-World Cup, Hansen needed a crash test dummy and Ireland played the part to perfection.
Some perspective will need to be applied to the 60-0 rout in Hamilton, before the squad for the Rugby Championship is inked.
Ireland gave their all in Christchurch and were fodder after a week in Queenstown.
Regardless, Hansen has garnered vital information and trialed some new and exciting changes to the All Blacks template.
Firstly, he has unearthed a genuine back-up for openside Richie McCaw.
Calls for Sam Cane to inherit the No7 are premature, but the kid can play. Let's see if he can dominate against South Africa or Australia, though, before talk of moving McCaw to blindside gathers any more momentum.
A trio of Kieran Read, Victor Vito and McCaw still appeals most for the first big test. That said, Cane was one of several good calls from the new selection panel who were proven right about Julian Savea, Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano.
And particularly Smith. The halfback's pass is a gem. He is confident, organised, demanding and accurate with his kicking and defence.
The speed with which the ball left the ruck in Hamilton was simply too much for Ireland and has the potential to unleash one of the best and most well-rounded back divisions for some years.
Sonny Bill Williams is freakish and will provide a tough choice for the selectors should Ma'a Nonu return his to blockbusting best.
Savea has a huge future, but is still a work in progress under the high ball. There is no rush and the time has come to give Hosea Gear an extended run on the opposite wing to Cory Jane.
Notably, the All Blacks appeared willing to utilise their forwards' ball handling abilities in Hamilton and Romano appears to add more in that area than Retallick.
It allowed phase ball to be moved wide without the fumbling disruption that hindered their opponents.
And once Ireland were stretched to the sidelines players were able to run either clean through the gaps, or far enough to get their arms free for the off load. It was Crusader-like. They will need to because there is further work to be done on a scrum still adjusting to the absence of Brad Thorn.
Overall, Hansen's new coaching team deserve a pat on the back. The lineout has been near flawless, the restarts imaginative and effective and the defence impregnable last time out.
The future looks bright.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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