The All Blacks intent was always going to be known. During their last pre-RWC test match outing on Saturday, it was always about squad development, demonstrating what the side was capable of, and about improving the side’s intent and attitude.
Now that the outcome is known; a 92-7 victory over Tonga, the intent ‘to score at will’ was achieved. A fantastic result, even while a one-sided one – it has seen the World Champions both entertain their fanbase while learning some lessons from the 14 tries-to-one result.
Winning easily, yet with the realization that with only weeks to go until the Rugby World Cup in Japan, everything would be judged by an examining rugby-public.
If the sight of Crusaders outside back George Bridge claiming multiple tries was proof evident of the sides form and confidence, then his near-Guinness record time 7.4 second score, immediately after the kick-off, which was an emphatic display.
George Bridge summed it up well when he said “Yeah it was good fun. Being dominant and ruthless, we had a huge emphasis on that today.”
Biggest Improver: Ben Smith
He played the house down, performing like ‘Bender of old’. Two tries, and the ultra-consistent player under the high ball, on the attack and in defence.
Strongest display on Defence: Patrick Tuipulotu
Big Paddy was in command of the defensive blanket that was thrown over Tonga. Ordered to display his bulk, the Blues captain showed that his name will be one of the first-mentioned; in the absence of Brodie Retallick in pool play at the RWC.
Most Valuable Player: Josh Ioane [on debut]
One of the more interesting substitutions in All Blacks recent memory, his inclusion; let alone introduction in the 41st minute was a vote of confidence.
When George Bridge recovered a kick-off to run in an amazing 7.4 second try movement, Josh Ioane made that his debut was of MVP quality.
⏱ 7.4 second – enough said. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/dls9MJydPW
— Sky Sport NZ (@skysportnz) September 7, 2019
All Blacks Intent and Attitude all right on the day
Kieran Read was questioned directly after the game, about his thoughts on the match outcome. “Really proud of the way we stuck at it from that first whistle.
“Yeah look it’s important. It is our last hit-out together, and I guess we have two weeks between now and that first game. It’s really important that we keep building in ourselves, and I guess now it’s the exciting part between now and then.”
His call is as important as that of the All Blacks management. While out on the field, Read will have seen the All Blacks intent and attitude in real-time.
Was it aggressive and assertive as the group want? Are they where they want to be? (with weeks until RWC). Those answers will only be seen internally.
For all the social media spin, and access/video, the players will be insular in their assessment. That is teams sport. You don’t broadcast your attitude for the cameras – so if players looked unexcited after a 92 point win, that may not reflect their entire group’s satisfaction with the outcome.
“Everyone got a good run and no injuries,” Hansen said in his SkySport post-game interview. “We played some good footy and we got the opportunity to cement some combinations again.”
Winning big is not always easy – AB’s World Cup prep
Guarantees in sport are hard to keep. So while the All Blacks intent was to perform to their absolute best, the result was no assured. Anything could have happened. So like Steve Hansen remarked post-game “we had no injuries” which was a relief to many rugby pundits.
Any preseason or pre-Tournament games are fraught with danger. Winning big is not easy, especially if it sides become overconfident. Gladly for All Blacks fans, this outcome was positive – and the ability to rotate players seemed to ‘tick all the boxes’.
Those ‘ticks’ even appeared to include playing the last 15 minutes with only 14 players.
— Paul (@thenewnumber2) September 7, 2019
Broadcast by sideline commentator Ian Smith to viewers live, it seemed like a pretense. Although, with Ryan Crotty’s non-substitution being allowed, it meant that the hosts finished the match a man-short. Something that in 2015 they seemed to experience quite literally, when current skipper Kieran read was yellow carded.
Practice makes perfect although, fans will want discipline to also be a focus.
Hansen explained in the press conference that “We had to make that choice and the score told us we could make that choice with relatively low risk”. In a world where the 100-test head coach is experienced enough to know that ‘any scenario is possible’ then why not pay to it?
The chances of a Pool game or even one of the key Knock-out games seeing the All Blacks needing to adapt with only 14 players, is logical. If not strategy worthy of Vulcan methodology, then it is calculated. While players may likely be yellow-carded – or even worse [red carded, like Scott Barrett or Sonny Bill Williams].
The ability to react is most likely out of necessity. Though it is a skill worthy of champions.
In reality, with a goal so large as the Rugby World Cup, sides who can react immediately, adjust, adapt and then act positively, might well be the most successful. After the 97-7 win over Tonga, following on from the 36-0 win against Australia, and two poor outings prior.
What the victory over Tonga did is to bring the players tighter together. Nothing is better than winning – and winning big. The All Blacks intent was pleasing, and it has reinforced the players, coaches and fans attitude that ‘they are the best’.
Although still challenged by all the other sides in the world, that also think they are the best. It wouldn’t be a World Cup if that were not the case.
Both sides now turn their focus to the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand squad travel on Monday, to a camp north of Tokyo, to best prepare for the toughest opening game of the tournament: versus South Africa.
Tonga, who will be recovering from the brutal treatment by their opponents, must now dress their wounds, and try to rebuild their game before they land in Japan. It will be tough, and hard to predict where they finish. But their leadership must boost the sides morale, before the attend the opening ceremony on September 20.
“Main video credit – AllBlacks.com”