Apart from seeing Aotearoa's All Blacks in action and a couple stylistic aspects to their play, don't take too much away from the 23-13 win over South Africa. Those Springboks will be a factor later on in the tournament and for them, an opening game against the All Blacks sets the benchmark from which they can build upon.
Given how the Springboks performed, they will be disappointed not to have come closer to snatching a win, although they showed they will be tricky match up for Aotearoa or any of the RWC contenders. Watching All Blacks vs Springboks games is an experience like no other and we were graced with such an opener for either nation, which had me pondering how all of the big-dawg rugby union nations shared a rivalry with Aotearoa. Playing against South Africa has it's own feel, then there is the trans-Tasman battle with Australia and of course England always present a certain niggly challenge; that's what makes the All Blacks, the All Blacks.
As far as my viewing experience went for this game, it was a delightful series of events. I'd strongly recomend that you either absorb all All Blacks games, the commentary at least via Nigel Yalden and the radio crew, or make sure you feel that experience a couple times throughout RWC. Yalden's the best in the business and my live experience, was strictly via Yalden's picture painting abilities, where Handre Pollard was kicking the ball 'delightfully' and and Ofa Tu'ungafasi told Sevu Reece to 'calm the farm'.
Don't bother with telly commentary. Either get the radio fired up or bang out some tunes, or allow space for your own comments; nothing's worse than a telly with the commentary volume on full blast drowning out whatever you wanna say.
Ah, but the viewing experience. If you have the luxury of Sky Sports, all you need to do is record the delayed broadcast through TVNZ - but record it via Sky. Then watch it comfortably as soon as you wake up, fast-forward all the talking before the game where you'd otherwise learn nothing and boom; no worries about Spark. Sure, some of you may not be as weird as me and be frothing to see live footy, which is fine. My experience was fabulous, blending the Yalden commentary in with an early morning All Blacks sesh that for many of us is where our favourite All Blacks memories stem from as we'd all wake up early with dad and watch the All Blacks play in Europe or South Africa.
If you are desperate to wach it live, jam a VPN or any of the copious amounts of alternatives that are available. Well, that's if you're complaining about how things are because if you're complaining but not exploring all your options, you're silly.
Having watched this podcast with Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara, seeing Perenara leading the haka adds a few more goosebumps to the mix. The All Blacks have been lucky to have so many hearty tane leading haka and after learning more about Perenara, there is a certain mana that permeates from a young Maori lad like Perenara. Perenara was joined by Kieran Read in leading the haka, both walking through the warriors until Read takes his spot at the front and it's all Perenara.
I just want to reinforce how cool it is for us young kiwis to have Perenara as the All Blacks spiritual leader, drawing strength from Aotearoa and grounding this team in the connection to the land.
The most intriguing selection move for this first game, felt like Sevu Reece and George Bridge starting as the two wingers. A lot was made about the need for mobility in the forward pack, specifically the front-row and I found this most evident in the wingers chosen as the All Blacks tend to rely on the size/speed combo that has given us everlasting glorious memories. Reece isn't exactly big, but he is swift and nimble, while Bridge has taken Ben Smith's accountant vibe to a nek level and while neither looks overly powerful, they are both fast and have good skills.
Rolling with Richie Mo'unaga and Beauden Barrett together, also tickled the tastebuds. However, there was nothing overly dramatic in how they operated and perhaps this combo was over-blown in terms of Barrett's involvements from fullback which didn't seem to be all that different from what fullbacks normally do. If you have a fullback with the passing/play-making of a first-five, then you'd be silly not to put them in a distribution role as opposed to a fullback who has developed as a running 15.
What did happen though, was the split between Mo'unga and Barrett. My assessment was that Barrett leaned towards the left, Mo'unga on the right and this gives the All Blacks a distributor who can also pose a running threat, on either side of the ruck. When the ruck is off-set to the right, then we have a situation that led to the first try where Mo'unaga sent a big pass out to Barrett who then pulled some strings for Bridge...
I reckon this hits a greater level of funk when you factor in the speed of the wingers and where Ardie Savea, Kieran Read and Dane Coles like to set up base in attack. Read does drift out to the flanks, but this mainly revolves around Savea on the right and Coles on the left. There is no point having these lads stay out wide, if the ball never gets to them and a major benefit of playing with Mo'unga and Barrett is that they are the keys to shifting the footy - not only in executing the skill, but reading the defence to suss out how and when.
Mo'unga had 6 kicks, Barrett had 5 which means they split the key play-maker duties evenly and while there's a shot below of the two see-sawing in defence, perhaps coach Shag also based this decision around defence. Maybe, just maybe the fact that Mo'unga had 3-1 (tackles-missed tackles) and Barrett had 1-3 played a role here as well. Mo'unga also made an impressive chase-down tackle on Cheslin Kolbe that showcased his defensive prowess.
Here’s an example of the see-saw as Mo’unga drifts to follow the ball, Barrett tucks in behind…
The bloke who has me most excited to see them roll through the tournament is Ardie Savea. Part of this stems from the attention that Savea will receive from high profile opposition and whether Savea can sustain his robust style throughout the tournament. Savea averaged 4.12m/run from his 8 runs and that, which was slightly behind Scott Barrett but when put up against Pieter-Steph Du Toit (3.42m/run) and Duane Vermeulen (2.63m/run) who were main running flankers for South Africa; Savea is a monster.
However, Savea also had the most tackle busts of any forward in this game with 3 and also won the most turnovers (along with Springboks centre Lukhanyo Am) with 2. Given that Savea offers such a unique style of play hovering out wide and how effective he was with his all-round performance, he is shaping as a major x-factor for the All Blacks.
One note on Aaron Smith, who got hounded around the ruck but this play is an exceptional example of what can make the halfback position so important. Smith gets the ball from the ruck, then look how he is ahead of the game and his effort to be involved in the play has him ahead of all the other chasers when Reece looks to pass...
Speaking of Smith, he's Smith dropping all sorts of halfback gems...
I'm not sure what kinda insights I'll be able to offer in the next two games vs Canada (nek Wednesday) and then Namibia. These are games the All Blacks should win rather easily and we can expect to see plenty of selection rotation, to share the minutes around. I'll be listening to matua Yalden and watching closely to see what emerges from next week's game, then I'll re-emerge with another yarn.
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Peace and love 27.