All Blacks win a fast and furious sign as the World Cup looms
It's pretty difficult to win a game of rugby if you don't touch the ball for the first 20 minutes. The Springboks found that out the hard way last night in Penrose, with the All Blacks' 35-20 victory built off a fast and furious start - maybe one in which they played better rugby than the last time they beat the Boks.
That now famous game at Ellis Park, the day that Ian Foster defied his destiny to be the first All Black coach to ever be fired, also featured a stunning run of possession to open proceedings. But the difference last night at Go Media Mt Smart Stadium was that they were prepared for the inevitable Bok backlash. While some counter punches were landed by the visitors through their much-vaunted bench, by then the All Blacks had established a reach advantage that ultimately led to a comfortable victory.
This was definitely one of those games where it's more a case of picking which All Blacks played better rather than who was good or bad.
Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax certainly did their causes no harm by winning a couple of scrum penalties early. The propping rotation has gone from being a real worry to an area of supreme strength in the space of 12 months, with Joe Moody still to return to action. It's reassuring to know that the All Black scrum is capable of such dominance, because it's going to need all of that when they get to Paris in early September.
Brodie Retallick came off the field looking like he'd had a fight with a weed whacker, but the blood and cuts on his face were testament to the fact that he'd flung himself into everything on his return to action. Shannon Frizell had his best game in an All Black jersey, a week after you probably could have said the same thing for his effort against the Pumas.
On one hand, it's about time for Frizell. He's been given a lot of chances to prove he's more than a flat track bully at test level, but it can be forgiven if he is peaking at exactly the time the All Blacks need him to.
Richie Mo'unga played liked all the recent talk of Damian McKenzie taking over at first five may as well have been in some foreign language. His organisation and combination with Beauden Barrett looked seamless, especially in that crucial early stage. Both men kicked intelligently and quite often, at least by All Black standards, which put the Boks under immense pressure that manifested itself into some embarrassing handling errors.
Will Jordan was the pick of the backs, picking up where he left off to be dangerous whenever he got the ball and scoring an inevitable try to take his incredible strike rate to one per test for his 22 outings.
It's really hard to figure out what the Boks' plan was to start the game. They didn't compete at lineouts and were generally very passive in their approach, as if they were simply playing out the clock till their bench players came on. It's almost as if coach Jacques Nienaber overthought the entire situation because it just would have been better if the likes of Malcolm Marx, RG Snyman and Pieter-Steph du Toit had started the game - like conventional thinking around selection works for everyone else.
This is a pretty big tick in the win column for Foster's All Blacks. They went in with a few questions over their ability to build on a good start (think England in the last test of last year) and gave an emphatic answer. Last weekend's win over the Pumas could in part have been put down to the Argentineans' rustiness, but there was certainly nothing wrong with the form of the Springboks coming into last night.
The Freedom Cup is back in the cabinet. One hand is already on The Rugby Championship and the Bledisloe is likely to be defended next. If things keep going at this rate, by the time the All Blacks fly to France, the likelihood of gaining back the most important trophy of all will be an awful lot higher.