All Blacks get good hitout before Bledisloe test
No major injuries and a chance to blow out some rust; the All Blacks got exactly what they needed from two 40-minute matches against North Harbour and Northland in Albany tonight.
Rain fell steadily which made handling difficult and on a wet surface with mix and match combinations from the All Blacks, the overall effort struggled for cohesion.
That didn't stop the All Blacks running in seven first-half tries in a 41-5 rout of North Harbour - and a further three tries in a more competitive 19-7 second-half against Northland.
In an interesting turn, Ma'a Nonu kicked three conversions from seven against Harbour - including one sideline attempt.
"It was a what if," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said post-match of Nonu's goal-kicking. "If something happened and we needed it a kicker... it was an opportunity to try it. Ma'a didn't do too bad. It was a good hit-out for us. The guys hadn't played for a while and in the second-half that showed. It was exactly what we needed."
Openside Sam Cane, in his first match since fracturing his knee in late May, left the field in the second quarter with a minor cut to his head. That will be the only frustration in what was an otherwise successful excursion ahead of next week's Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney.
Cory Jane looked sharp, scoring a hat-trick in a full match in the hotly-contested right wing spot, with Ben Smith rested entirely, and Charles Piutau enjoyed time at fullback and left wing.
Wider squad member Liam Squire was a standout in the first-half at blindside flanker. The Tasman and Chiefs No 8 showcased a keen work-rate and set-up two tries with well-timed offloads in traffic on opposite sides of the field. Squire's Tasman loose-forward partner Shane Christie also impressed after replacing Cane.
"He's someone we've seen and liked so it was good to have an opportunity to see him play," Hansen said of Squire.
There was no sign of Brodie Retallick, who has endured a heavy workload this year with the Chiefs, or the Crusaders' contingent, which left Jeremy Thrush and Steven Luatua to form the locking combination.
With Dan Carter absent through injury for one month, Aaron Cruden predominately took charge at first five-eighth, making two nice incisions.
All three halfbacks - TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Smith, had a run - the latter today also confirming what he told Fairfax Media last month by re-signing with the Highlanders for a further two years.
Beauden Barrett started at fullback for the Northland half, before setting up Jane for the try of the night after shifting to his accustomed role at first-five in the final quarter.
In trademark fashion, Nonu ran strongly in the midfield alongside Conrad Smith and Malakai Fekitoa, while Jerome Kaino was a beast on defence around the fringes.
Ben Franks also played 60 minutes at loose-head prop.
All Blacks: Dane Coles, Conrad Smith, Sam Cane, Julian Savea, Cory Jane 3, Shane Christie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Keven Mealamu tries Ma'a Nonu con 3, Barrett con 2
North Harbour: Tevita Li try
Northland: Kara Pryor try, Daniel Hawkins con