Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Irishmen...
Hamilton – New Zealand 60 – 0 Ireland
Demolition: [noun] the action or process of demolishing or being demolished
Until Saturday just gone, 107 years of international rugby union had seen Ireland fail to register any points against New Zealand on two separate occasions, the last being at Lansdowne Road in Dublin in 1924. On a wet November Saturday afternoon, the All Blacks ground out a 6-0 win with a try to winger Kenneth Svenson and a penalty to Five Eighths Mark Nicholls. This game was also the first of nine test matches for the then 19 year old Fullback George Nepia.
Eighty eight years on and New Zealand once again held the Irish scoreless, adding a zero to that 1924 score line and running out winners sixty points to nil.
Of the twenty six tests played out between the two sides before the massacre on Saturday, there had only been three other times where the All Blacks had registered more than a half century of points against Ireland. However there had never before been a spread of sixty, the closest being the 59-6 drubbing at Athletic Park in 1992 when New Zealand scored 11 tries to one, although this was before tries were increased from four points to five.
At Rugby Park, in the twenty seventh instalment against an Irish test side, the All Blacks exploded from the first whistle to totally annihilate their opponents with a rugby master class. The all-round performance from players one to fifteen, for 80 devastating minutes, must have left Ireland head coach, Declan Kidney, wondering what had changed in only seven days since the 21-19 loss in Christchurch.
All Black supremo Steve Hansen’s changes to his side were made off the back of some minor injuries to two key men in Daniel Cater and Kieran Read but also to also bring in youthful energy and destructiveness to the team. His selections were savvy and effective.
In the pack, Nelson born lock Luke Romano relegated the Chiefs workhorse Brodie Retallick to the bench until the 56th minute when Rettalick left the timber and replaced incumbent Sam Whitelock. Romano’s scrumaging had been sighted as the reason for the change in the second row; however throughout the game his work in the loose must have pleased Hansen as Romano battered the Irish defence with a number of dominating runs through the midfield.
With the word class Read injured, who better to replace him than with one Richard McCaw. In his 100th Test start, McCaw captained his side from the back of the scrum which allowed Chief’s Flankers Sam Cane and Liam Messam to run out for their first and ninth starts respectively.
Where Messam provided the pack with an effective skill set to compliment the sweeping nature of the game, the 20 year old Cane announced himself to the word stage as the possible successor to McCaw in the number seven jersey. At six foot two inches and 104 kilograms he almost mirrors the great McCaw in physique. He imposed himself throughout the match, being a constant nuisance at the breakdown and linking the play superbly, scoring two well taken tries to round out what was an impressive run on test debut.
In the halves, Aaron Smith again provided the spark to the All Black backline, this time having his Manuatu team mate Aaron Cruden outside him, directing play. If well-known combinations allow teams to flourish then Cruden must stay at fly-half if Sonny Bill Williams is to keep the number 12 jersey.
In the twenty four minutes that Cruden was on the paddock before retiring injured, he had served up an array of delicious passes and offloads which resulted in Sonny Bill matching his Chiefs team mate Cane with his own brace of tries. Williams silenced his critics with a manful performance that allowed the 26 year old to showcase every one of his majestic talents. In fact, of the seventeen tests Sonny Bill Williams has played, he has only been on the losing side once, against South Africa in Port Elizabeth last year.
While the misfiring Julian Savea was replaced by Hosea Gear on the left wing, it was a surprise that Zac Guildford was dumped on the other. Throughout the first two tests, Guildford was not entirely disappointing, getting stuck in where some wingers dread to go and generally being busy. However, with a match so close the week before, Hansen and Co decided that two fullbacks were better than one and plumped for the Highlander’s Ben Smith on the right. Smith had a solid, if not exceptional game, and took his try well after holding an early pass from his name-sake Conrad to score close to the touchline during a lovely phase of the play.
As the match wore on, Ireland had no answer to the power and pace of a rampant All Black machine, eventually letting through nine tries in total to concede sixty points or more for the third time in history against New Zealand. Future reflections will have it that they came so close to their first ever win against an All Black team, in Christchurch last week. Whether it was because New Zealand were so much better in Hamilton, or that the Irish had nothing left to give after emptying the tanks the previous weekend, only the players will know.
We may never see the great Brian O’Driscoll on our shores in test attire again but his look of sheer disappointment after the second test loss will live on in the collective memory for a very long time indeed.