The 2017 All Blacks have been like a progressive dinner party from the 1980s – around the same time that digital watches and fondues were a good idea – you have no idea what is coming up next and any discovered delicacy is no guarantee that a continued banquet of excellence is to follow.
Last Saturday’s Test against France was an 80-minute precis of the entire season; 40 minutes of solid basics, forward-based, liberally sprinkled with black magic dust, which resulted in a commanding and ultimately unreachable lead of 31-5.
The second stanza saw the return of an inexperienced and slightly directionless side, the hard, black veneer scratched to reveal a team exposed.
So many false dawns, so much promise, and still that full 80-minute performance eludes them.
Our misfiring dinner party has opened so often in reverse; a black forest trifle here, a substantial Banana split there, and just as we look for a fine port to finish the evening, some bozo slips a cheap, insulin-challenging dessert wine into the mix and we are all left disappointed.
[latest_videos_strip category=”rugby” name=”Rugby”]
The opening gambit against an overwhelmed Samoa, a tactical masterclass in the first Test, the opening 50 minutes of Bledisloe 1, Albany – ahh, we’ll always have Albany, where the Springboks simply did not know which way to look next – and the first half in Paris were all quality.
But ultimately, they were brief displays.
What is genuinely galling is that when they hit these standards, no one can go with them, but a lack of composure and execution continue to haunt this side.
The first half in France really looked like so many of the season’s prior challenges had been put firmly behind them.
Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams seemed to have declunked the funk in their collective junk, the forwards were again laying an excellent platform (a couple of good French scrums aside), Sam Cane was rampant both in tight and as the link between the forwards and the princesses, Damian McKenzie was making proper Test-level decisions and restricting his sideways running, Dane Coles was focusing on his own game instead of gobbing off at everyone within a two-kilometre radius, and that was a high-quality cameo before injury claimed him after 25 minutes.
The only real downside was the inability of Vaea Fafita to inject himself into the contest again.
I am still not sure that head chef Steve Hansen doesn’t seek to deliberately stress this team out. Why, when you have lost Coles to injury and your skipper to a precautionary early sit-down, do you drag Aaron Smith and take off Ryan Crotty, while keeping the law-book-challenged SBW out on the park, thus leaving only Sam Whitelock and Cane as genuine leaders?
We are now only a couple of weeks away from the end of the season and standards demand a complete performance before minds drift to the Christmas menu.
You can keep your sausages wrapped in bacon, cheese and pineapple served on the same stick, and shrimp cocktails. I want a single serving of solid, Kiwi excellence before we close.
I’ll have 80 minutes of the pork bones and puha, thanks.