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OPINION: Glory. Style. Flair. Even beauty. It is never enough for the All Blacks just to win, they have to change the world. They have to be stronger, faster, cleverer and more dazzling than anyone else. John Hart and John Mitchell both tried to win a World Cup this way. They both failed. It seemed like the impossible dream.
But nothing seems impossible right now. Having watched the last few weeks of rugby from both the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres, it has become apparent that New Zealand rugby is now on a different planet from the rest of the world. The Chiefs smashed the Cheetahs at the weekend playing badly. That's how far New Zealand is moving ahead.
Back in the seventies, New Zealand's coaching was hidebound and fearful. It took a Welshman called Carwyn James to show them the light. But in the 21st century New Zealand's coaching can hopefully pull rugby towards a new age of enlightenment.
Joe Schmidt, Vern Cotter, John Kirwan, Graham Henry, Jamie Joseph, Steve Hansen, Mark Hammett and Warren Gatland are all doing wonderful, optimistic things. The list is much, much longer than that. Indeed it would fill the whole article. But perhaps leading the way are Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry at the Chiefs.
The Super Rugby champions scored a try at the weekend that was a work of art. There was a time when New Zealand players were portrayed as the "Unsmiling Giants". Even in the seventies James observed a nation more impressed by perspiration than inspiration. While the '71 Lions, "drunk with power", sometimes showed off like mad with septuple scissors, New Zealand players were running themselves into the mud at training.
James thought this was perhaps indicative of different national traits. Well, I wonder what the late Welsh visionary would see now. He would probably carelessly drop a bank note or two out of his pockets, have a good scratch at his eczema and smile with delight at the new New Zealand rugby.
James would have loved "that" Chiefs try from the weekend. Richard Kahui had already articulated at halftime the flaw that the Chiefs staff had identified in the Cheetahs' defence (they may need to get the articulate Kahui to shut up or the opposition will realise the likely point of attack).
Kahui said, "They have a tendency to turn in. The second-five and the centre stay square and then the centre pushes out."
The Chiefs had already exploited this weakness earlier in the match by sending Aaron Cruden looping round into the space.
This time Cruden took the ball and ran a dummy scissors to hold up the Cheetahs back row.
Cruden then passed to Tim Nanai-Williams, who held the midfield defence with a dummy to Lelia Masaga, who was coming on the burst.
Cruden looped off Nanai-Williams and was now in the space identified by Kahui. The fragments of defence tried desperately to get to the outside and Cruden switched the ball to Gareth Anscombe, who ran in untouched, with both flankers supporting on the shoulder.
If we see a better move this season, we will be blessed. It was executed with speed and accuracy by passers, runners, receivers and actors because, let's face it, such deception takes a bit of stage craft, a bit of performance. It truly was a work of art.
Smith told me last week that he thought French flair was dead, a myth, a thing of the past. It had been throttled by the rigours of Top 14 rugby. Perhaps, Marc Lievremont tried to grasp it briefly at the last World Cup but the players ran through his fingers.
That seems to be the case all around the world. Phase play after phase play, often just for the sake of it. But New Zealand's Super Rugby teams are playing with an optimism. The Highlanders and the Hurricanes have played some very fine football, even if the players (and the refs) have lacked accuracy at times.
And the Blues have been a revelation. It probably starts with defence for them. The Blues are running a hard push, an arrowhead aimed to disrupt the first ball carriers, with the wide players angled back, ready for a fast drift. Indeed, it is very similar to Argentina's defence. Funny that.
But it is working and giving the players the confidence to play when they have the ball. Piri Weepu has been the best halfback in the country over the first two weekends. What a difference from the previous two seasons.
The Blues scored a try against the Crusaders at the weekend, made possible by the fact that Weepu (with Ali Williams) cleared out a ruck downfield that his team was about to lose. He wouldn't have got there - not even close - a year ago.
But Weepu's new lease of life comes partly from the coaches. Kirwan and Henry and the rest of the Super Rugby leaders want their teams to play with optimism. Anything is possible. The samba beat of Brazil, the calypso cricket of the West Indies, the total football of the Dutch, the inspiration of New Zealand. There you are, Carwyn, the world has changed.
There need be no more Dear John letters from the World Cup. If you picked an All Blacks backline from the first two weekends of the Super Rugby it might look like Weepu, Cruden, Julian Savea, Nanai-Williams, Rene Ranger, Hosea Gear, Ben Smith. Imagine the possibilities.
I am sure that the Chiefs coaching staff can. The impossible dream. Win the world cup with rugby from the other end of the planet. One day soon it might come true.
- The Dominion Post
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