Gear change from All Blacks

Date published: October 18 2015

1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_Nehe_Milner-Skudder_with_Wayne_Smith_in_New_Zealand_changing_room

Emphatic doesn't do New Zealand's performance justice as they made a statement against France on Saturday, running out 62-13 victors in Cardiff.

Nine tries and a noticeable gear change in their game silenced any doubts they're undercooked for the tournament. In fact, their timing looks perfect.

World Cups are not won in the pool stages and while much has been made of somewhat sloppy outings against Georgia and Namibia, last night gave those watching around the globe a firm message that the holders are once again the team to beat. South Africa are next to stand in their way.

Let's head back to the Rugby Championship and while they were unsuccessful, the bigger picture was always in head coach Steve Hansen's mind as he ticked box after box in preparation for September and October. Options for any RWC scenario are firmly in place, of that there's little doubt.

Players such as Lima Sopoaga, who many including me thought did enough to be on the plane after his effort against the Springboks, was left out but still kept in the loop with the group. The same went for Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Ryan Crotty, Andy Ellis, Jeremy Thrush and Israel Dagg – all of whom had proved they would be more than capable to step in should injury hit, as it proved already for Moody, who was superb yesterday.

Versatility is another buzzword associated with squads and again boxes were ticked in the form of Ben Franks being able to cover both sides of the scrum, Victor Vito having been blooded at lock and Jerome Kaino enjoying plenty of time at number eight for the Blues in 2015. Further back there are the qualities of Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade at either fly-half, full-back and sometimes wing while Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams and Malakai Fekitoa were given time in both the 12 and 13 jersey. Should injury hit a wing meanwhile, Ben Smith is able to slot in, seamlessly.

How many other teams are able to work under such circumstances whether unlikely or not? There lies one reason why New Zealand are best equipped to lift the trophy on October 31. Another came last night with their form improving three-fold as they obliterated the French in emphatic style.

But were France as bad as New Zealand were good? Les Bleus, particularly in the second-half of games, have been hugely disappointing this World Cup and Saturday was no exception as they crumbled in a shocking end to Philippe Saint-Andre's tenure. Boos from fans summed up their feelings.

One can take nothing away from Hansen's men though as they marched to a record World Cup win over their bogey team, with Julian Savea the star of the show with three tries. This is the same Savea who was criticised for being "overweight" when he arrived at camp in August. Again, timing.

'The Bus' looks in peak physical condition at the moment as he moved three tries clear of Bryan Habana, Gareth Davies and Nehe Milner-Skudder.

In all honesty that mirrors his team's shift of pace which pleased the Kiwi press in attendance, who had been frustrated during the pool games. One comes back to Hansen in this regard as it's now clear – from past experience – they were holding off the gas. From now it's full throttle.

by Adam Kyriacou

COMMENTS