What I often ask after a game is (and the weekends matches were no exception): 'were we really good, or were they just plan old crap'? The French team contained just one player from their World Cup semi-final (gag, cough) victory over the All Blacks, and was also some seven players different from the side which very nearly departed the Republic with a test series win. So surely it was a 'B' side that played on the weekend??? I don't think so. Though the backs were barely adequate, the forwards were at times barely stoppable. If that was their number two scrum, they must have a bloody scary out back! But more on that later.
Looking at the All Black side before the game, I would have said the 'shaky' positions were Numbers 7, 8, 10 and 13. Those were the ones I felt a little less than confident with.
Taine Randell started at openside flanker, and overall he put in a pretty fine performance. I don't remember many, if any missed tackles and he was certainly involved in the odd turnover. But somehow he isn't as visible as a Number 7 should be... With Reuben Thorne staying almost exclusively in the tight, a free ranging fast opensider is required. Though Randell was good, Holah was better. He was immediately visible and out in the thick of the shit. So heres the question: Why play your utility from the start and have the specialist on the bench? I dunno... I wouldn't.
Ron Cribb to me doesn't look the business. He's selfish with the ball in hand, and though obviously a very talented athlete, he somehow isn't good enough to be attempting what he attempts. I don't remember Zinzan Brooke being such a showpony early in his career. Sure, once he'd earned it, he had a crack at the odd dropgoal or chipkick, but the hard graft comes first. Not that Cribb tried any fancy tricks on Saturday, it's just that he didn't make a big impression. Sorry Ron, but if he's fit, I'd be starting Mr Collins in the Tri-Nations ahead of you.
Tony Brown had a damn fine game too. But call me biased, I don't think he is as good as Mehrts, even on his best days. Defensively he is better (Did you know he is slightly taller than Mehrtens, but weighs fractionally less!), but on attack I think he is a more predictable runner and his tactical kicking is not as good. Having said that, his bomb was placed to perfection on Saturday, and once Kelleher (my pick for the Tri-Nations number 9!) was introduced, together they set the backline alight.
I still don't think we have a "true" centre, and I know Tana agrees. But he's the best thing we have and is definitely improving. Defensively he's a brick shithouse, and there's no doubting his attacking abilities. I guess its those subtle 'centrey' things he has yet to fully master. Given the massive talent we are talking about, I say stick with him.
So back to that scrum... We were totally demolished on the French line in the second half if memory serves me right. Not long after the French introduced some extra forward firepower I believe. Those Froggie boys pretty much had our tight five for breakfast and unfortunately Mr Hayman was somewhat found out. No need to panic yet I feel, but it pays to remember our front row is quite young, quite inexperienced and have a whole lot to learn.
And to finish on a high note. Anton Oliver is going to be a great captain. I liked the way he was talking it up on the paddock. He looked the part. Wilson is back! He had a fantastic game, and with guys like Howlett about too, we have more than enough finishing finesse out wide. Rueben Thorne is totally dominant and after Oliver would be the next name I'd write down when naming a forward pack, followed closely by Norm Maxwell. As DH rightly states, he's a complete nutter. I'm just glad he's on our team!
Overall, we are looking good in the Black. Only a couple of tries conceded in three games and plenty of positives.
GO THE ALL BLACKS!