Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes: New Zealand most dominant team in rugby history
Last Updated: 19/09/16 5:09pm
This week my top 10 talking points is a special with the All Blacks as the subject.
The Rugby Championship champions after a mere four rounds, New Zealand are so far ahead of the rest of the world there really is only one talk of the rugby town.
If you think this is a little excessive, my apologies, but this is the most dominant team in the sport's history and I reckon they deserve a few lines.
1. Their achievements this season are all the greater for what came before. By that I mean one of the greatest rugby sides of them all. One that lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy in 2011 and 2015; one that was led by the greatest captain of modern times in Richie McCaw and one that was steered by the greatest fly-half of modern times in Dan Carter.
The Hurricane centre partnership of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith broke up, Keven Mealamu quit. Suddenly they were 900 caps or so light. Step forward Kieran Read as captain and Beauden Barrett at fly-half and whoosh, they are playing with even more ambition, scoring many more tries and expanding the gulf between them and the rest.
A little bit of praise might also due to Steve Hansen and his coaches.
2. Last week Aaron Smith was substituted before the 50-minute mark against Argentina. He had not been at his best. This week he only lasted 63 minutes but that must rate as one of the finest hours of international efforts from a scrum-half.
Hollering and chivvying from the base of the scrum, he is a communicator, general and inspiration rolled into one. His passing, those fast flat passes, long and scything ones and little delayed pop passes ripped South Africa to shreds.
He put a kick out on the full in the 50th minute (his one error); otherwise his box-kicking was exemplary while he ran with menace and often abandon. The break for Ardie Savea's try (although Matt Todd should have been penalised for obstruction) with the flip out of the tackle was pure class.
The world's most influential player was quite something to behold.
3. Not far behind was another DC. No sooner has Carter left the legion of Kiwi fans behind in search of his deserved pot of Euros than another DC arises to pass with all the fluency of the pass master himself.
But this one is the hooker. Dane Coles came up with three try assists. The first was a catch and pass in one movement that Carter would have enjoyed. The second was a half break and offload through the tackle and the final assist came after he ran a lovely straight line and threw a long accurate pass to the waiting Sam Whitelock on the wing.
Coles too was substituted earlier than usual last week. Whatever the management said to these star players had an extraordinary effect.
4. A brief mention for Julian Savea. He finally broke his duck and scored his first try against South Africa. Quite how the Springboks kept him out for so long is a mystery when you consider that his 43 tries constitute the fastest strike rate in the history of the game. To think he was left out earlier in the season!
Hansen likes to keep his winger on his toes. What a contest that could be next summer, Savea versus George North.
5. Not so long ago the All Black set piece was their weak point. Their pyrotechnic attacking game had left the basics of the game behind. This management has addressed those issues.
Warren Gatland says the Lions will be strong at scrum and lineout. They will need to be. The once dangerous Springbok scrum was second best from start to finish.
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Mike Cron seems to be a true guru of the scrum. The lineout is even more of a concern for opponents. Kick the ball into touch and they can damage opposition from this fluent first-phase part of their game. Kick infield and Ben Smith and company are waiting to counter-attack. There's not much in the way of respite.
6. A certain sadness that there will be no Lions Test in Christchurch, the venue of Saturday's game. The Canterbury region is at the heart of New Zealand rugby. It's the home of the current and former skipper, the birthplace of Graham Henry and Steve Hansen and the place where Carter was born and raised.
I know that professional rugby has to think of the economics of the sport but for this centre of rugby and the South Island not to be represented is a great shame, whatever the reasons.
7. Commiserations to Owen Franks; 84 caps for the greatest attacking team in the sport's history and he breaks a world record for the most Test appearances without a try.
While Coles is redefining the hooker's role, Franks is cementing the front row tradition of doing the donkey work and letting others grab the glory. It seems a tad antiquated in your team, Owen.
8. They are human; that's the good news for the rest of the rugby world. Bryan Habana scored a scintillating try to remind us that, yes there are a few flaws to New Zealand's game.
The South African's try was his 66th Test score, taking him two ahead of David Campese in the list of top tier Test try scorers. How many might Habana have scored had he been born in Christchurch?
9. Eddie Jones has pointed out that New Zealand was flawed but didn't wish to elaborate. Here is an observation Eddie might have kept to himself.
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It's pretty hard to get on their outside shoulder with the ball but - like Argentina - they showed that short pop passes on inside shoulders can create chaos. But you need to stretch them to create the necessary space between defenders for the likes of Habana and the more width on the game the more likely a New Zealand turnover and the possibility of tries against.
10. And here's the irony. Quite often the men tasked with guarding the gap around the fringe are Aaron Smith and Coles. Hansen asks an awful lot of his scrum-half. He is so good New Zealand trust him to do it all. He does most of it, most of the time.