All Blacks' 8-9-10 trio an extraordinary axis

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 10/10/2012
Kieran Read, Aaron Smith and Dan Carter
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TOP TRIO: Kieran Read, Aaron Smith and Dan Carter during the All Blacks test in Soweto.

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OPINION: Jean De Villiers was probably right. The All Blacks will not merely beat the record of 17 consecutive test victories, they will annihilate it. Who will stop them? New Zealand's next five matches are against a wounded nation in retreat and a bunch of northern hemisphere hopefuls. It should be a no contest.

Of course test football is never that straightforward. Injuries, bizarre refs, extraordinary one-off performances can always get in the way. But the main reason that New Zealand can be so gung-ho about the immediate future is the extraordinary axis that is developing at 8, 9 and 10.

Kieran Read, Aaron Smith and Dan Carter are better than very good. There is a chance that in the next couple of years, they could develop into the best triumvirate of all time. The link between number eight, half back and first five has always defined the great rugby teams and this All Blacks team may yet approach those heights.

Rugby historians can fill in the dots pre 1970, but since then there have been some magnificent combinations. My personal favourite is Mervyn Davies, Gareth Edwards and Barry John of Wales and the 1971 Lions.

Was there anything that those three could not do on a rugby field? And for all the array of physical talents, it was their sheer innate rugby intelligence that set them apart.

France had their own arc de triomphe in the seventies. Jean-Pierre Bastiat, Jacques Fouroux and Jean-Pierre Romeu were a merciless group, although they perhaps lacked the flair of the great Welshmen.

Tim Gavin, Nick Farr-Jones and Michael Lynagh stood out for Australia, although it was a great sadness that Mark Ella retired at the age of 25.

The All Blacks have a number of impressive trios to choose from over the previous 30 years. My preferences would be Murray Mexted, Dave Loveridge and Grant Fox in a play-off against Zinzan Brooke, Graeme Bachop and Andrew Mehrtens.

The notion that the current triumvirate could surpass those players is really something to contemplate.

Read, Smith and Carter all made mistakes at the weekend. Read was isolated in contact a couple of times and turned over for penalties.

Smith put a box kick out on the full. Carter's goal kicking and restarts were less than perfect and he slipped off the odd tackle.

And yet so much of what they did was the difference between the sides. Read and Carter made the first big tackles of the match.

Smith's huge defensive kick relieved the early South African siege. And the trio's handling under pressure sets this All Blacks team apart.

The first New Zealand breakout originated from a Smith flick that went almost unnoticed and from Carter's offload in the tackle. The accuracy of such passing led to the All Blacks' opening try. Indeed it hurt the Springboks throughout the match.

New Zealand had identified the weakness of South Africa's wide defence and they did not require much possession in order to exploit it.

The All Blacks used dummy runners or a holding player with his back to the play to briefly pause the defence, then they stung the Boks on the outside.

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The speed with which Read, Smith and Carter are moving the ball is becoming contagious.

Liam Messam's pass helped create the second try for Aaron Smith. But if it had not been so crisp and accurate, Bryan Habana would have gone the length of the pitch on the interception.

Smith's support lines are excellent, as are Read's. Carter's restart created the opportunity for the third try. Smith timed the release of his pass quite beautifully for the fourth try. Read nearly scored a fifth off Carter's cross kick.

Of course you don't become a world-beating side off three players. It helps that Conrad Smith - what an exquisite player he still is - Cory Jane and Israel Dagg are mighty contenders to be the best on the planet in their individual positions. It helps to have a great captain and player like McCaw.

Read said of his skipper: “The way he does things, it's all about the team. It's hard to think he's had a bad game across his career. It's incredibly motivating for us as a group.”

And it helps that the rest of the world isn't very good at the moment. But that is the nature of records. The great All Blacks team of 1965-69 only played South Africa once at the start of their run and didn't play France in France. South Africa took it to the bank in 1997-98 when New Zealand, Australia and England were all re-building.

Ma'a Nonu had a recent whinge: "Expectations are always high, but it's ironic, because we play a side and maybe we pile on the points and people say, ‘no, the opposition needs to get better', and we play a test match where we don't actually pile on the points and they say, ‘well, you're not meeting our expectations'. People tend to forget it's a test match."

We don't forget it's a test match, we just put things in perspective. The current New Zealand team are not world beaters by any means in the front five of the pack. I would like to see them tested by a team with a powerful front five, a good defence and a goal kicker.

New Zealand may lack a bit of grunt in the engine room, but Read, Smith and Carter are making these All Blacks a joy to watch.

- Fairfax Media

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