With Ireland’s tour of New Zealand just around the corner, I thought I’d take the opportunity to name my All Blacks 23 for the…
Which All Blacks side will emerge from the Eden Park locker rooms on Saturday night?
Will it be the imperious New Zealand of recent years, hell-bent on extending their 21-match winning streak over Australia in Auckland?
Or will it be the fumbly, undisciplined team from last week’s Bledisloe Cup opener, which took half an hour to get going?
The answer will decide whether the Wallabies can keep the trans-Tasman series alive for game three in Perth later this month.
New Zealand’s start to the series was a shocker, including the first four penalties of the game and scrappiness at the breakdown.
Their early blushes were saved by two factors – Australia’s lineout ineptitude and the wind at their backs allowing Richie Mo’unga to launch penalties from near the halfway line.
Those kicks inched the poor All Blacks to 9-0 lead they wouldn’t give up, but the blunders didn’t go unmissed by Kiwi great John Kirwan.
Kirwan called it the All Blacks’ “worst 30 minutes in the last five years”.
“Straight into penalties. Straight into handling errors. I’ve never seen them like that,” he told Sky Sport NZ.
It is lost on no one that New Zealand eventually clicked into gear, powering to a 33-25 win.
But the performance gave some credence to Andrew Kellaway’s throwaway jibe earlier this week that the All Blacks “aura has worn off a bit”.
Kiwi commentators have been wondering similar for some time.
After their inglorious World Cup semi-final exit in 2019, New Zealand has flattered to deceive under new coach Ian Foster.
The maintenance of Bledisloe Cup supremacy last year was simply expected, especially with world No.7 Australia in a rebuilding phase, and the Rugby Championship win was diminished without South Africa.
Captain Sam Whitelock said he was unmoved by media criticism because he didn’t read it.
He did, however, raise his eyebrows on hearing Kirwan’s assessment.
“Everyone’s allowed their opinion. That’s obviously his,” Whitelock said.
“He’s an ex-player. He knows sometimes what you’re trying to do takes a while to wear teams down.”
Whitelock admitted the first 15 minutes of the Test had been a focus in their Monday review.
“Everyone wants to start well. No one wants to not start well,” he said.
“We’d love to start the Test match at a real high intensity.”
All Blacks apathy might also be setting in among Kiwis.
Ticket sales for the second Bledisloe Test, which is also the Rugby Championship opener, are well short of last week’s sellout.
Eden Park may only be half full.
“Hopefully it’s more full than empty. The support we do have will be nice and loud,” Whitelock said.