OPINION: It's been a long time since Piri Weepu found his legs and lungs willing to co-operate with the commands of his rugby brain.
But in Edinburgh today the controversial halfback asked and found his trimmed down body willing and able.
It was a potentially career-saving 60 minutes for a player who had been given a final ultimatum by coach Steve Hansen to deliver. And deliver he did during the 51-22 win over Scotland.
His performance may not be enough to usurp Aaron Smith from the top side, but Weepu's efforts were food for thought, confirmation of an upward curve that needed to be confirmed.
That moment arrived in build up to Julian Savea's in the 30th minute.
Cory Jane had brilliantly manipulated the Scottish chase line to put Victor Vito down the touch line and Carter threw a speculator infield.
It has been some time since the link man in the middle was Weepu, but there he was in support.
A minute late it was Weepu stepping into space then finding Wyatt Crockett with a clever no-look pass in the middle of the park, the movement leading to Jane's first try of the afternoon (this morning, NZT).
When Weepu colluded with Jane on a short blind, then flicked the final pass to Andrew Hore, the All Blacks had scored three tries in 10 minutes to blow out to a 34-10 lead.
Their halfback was the common denominator finally quick enough to the breakdown to allow the attack to turn the corner at a pace too quick for the Scots' defence.
It seemed fitting it was Weepu's less substantial thigh that denied Scotland a try near halftime.
Anyone whose who in rugby knows the second wind will come only if it has been banked on the training field and in the gym.
Weepu was the big improver in a test that left the All Blacks with plenty to ponder despite the six tries and a 50-point score line.
Kick off receptions were poor, there were issues under the high ball, two punts out on the full and a couple of soft tries gifted to wing Tim Visser.
Dan Carter produced a master class at first five-eighth, his running game nearing the heights of 2005 as he mesmerised the defence by holding the ball out in front then fended his way into space.
He is a rare player, captivating at times during the first half, but the new look midfield of Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith was a mixed bag.
Ellison produced some trademark twinkling toes and a couple of nice off-loads and Smith, who was ever present, but often ignored, was rewarded with a late try.
But Ellison will wish he did not get isolated running from his 22 after halftime and the bulk of Ma'a Nonu was absent in the middle of the park.
Beauden Barrett made a good fist at fullback and may find himself there against Italy after replacing an injured Israel Dagg after 25 minutes, while Victor Vito looked strong and capable at No 8.
The All Blacks will be disappointed they let the Scots back into the game after having their foot on the throat as halftime approached, but pleased to have laid an encouraging platform the rest of the tour.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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