Commentary: Rugby Union: All Blacks show they are from another hemisphere

Llanelli 3 New Zealand 81
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The Independent Online
Badly concussed and even more seriously confused, Rupert Moon was taken off on a stretcher from the one-way traffic route known as Stradey Park after precisely an hour of Llanelli's exercise in utter futility and chose to regather his senses in the peace and quiet of the dressing-room. He was wise not to seek help at the local casualty department; by all accounts, the doctors there were too busy treating Clive Woodward, Brian Ashton and Kevin Bowring for advanced states of traumatisation.

The respective national coaches of England, Ireland and Wales knew all about Sean Fitzpatrick's 1997 New Zealanders in advance, of course. At least, they thought they did. While they would fully have expected Christian Cullen and Jeff Wilson to blur the vision with their pace at the back, presumed intelligence and craftsmanship from Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens at the fulcrum and taken for granted an all-embracing performance from the pack, not even the most miserable rugby pessimist could have anticipated annihilation on this scale.

Gareth Jenkins, the Llanelli coach whose own meeting with the All Blacks 25 years ago ended in home-town glory and a mighty hangover, could think of nothing to say to his players in the numbing aftermath. In fact, he burst out laughing. "Let's face it, we didn't know what the hell was happening to us out there, did we? The only thing that occurred to me was to laugh and say to the boys: `Well, what do you make of that, then?'

"They were a class apart and the whole of the northern hemisphere needs to digest and understand what these New Zealanders are doing with the game. There are things that we are trying to build into our rugby that they do automatically. We applaud ball retention and think we are developing along the proper lines when we get it right. They just expect it and do it. They have a panoramic view of the rugby field and make decisions that don't even occur to us."

Jenkins could have said more, but his supply of superlatives gave out on him. He might have pointed to the fact that the All Blacks knocked on twice - twice for heaven's sake - in the space of 80 minutes' rugby played in foul conditions on a Torvill and Dean surface. He might have acknowledged that the tourists would have scored precisely 100 points had they kicked all their goals. Finally, he might have recorded for posterity the emergence of yet another All Black loose-forward with the elements of greatness in his silver-ferned soul.

Taine Randell, an all-purpose loosie from Otago, started the evening by leading the haka. He then proceeded to lead just about everything else, quickly exhausting the emotional charge pulsing through the Scarlets' pack with an exhibition of No 8 play so accomplished that Zinzan Brooke will find it difficult to dislodge him from the Test line-up.

"That was Taine's first game in six weeks and, yes, he went pretty well out there," said John Hart. Long aware that this tour represents Zinny's last hurrah in an All Black jersey, the New Zealand coach has groomed Randell as the great man's long-term successor. Much more of this and the immediate term will be every bit as enticing for a 22-year-old blessed with secure hands and sharp top-of-the-ground speed to match a formidable degree of instinctive know-how.

Some 14,000 moist-eyed nostalgics were sardined into Stradey, "Sostan Fach" and "Land of My Fathers" were bellowed out with a gusto bordering on the evangelical and the same words could be read on every pair of lips: "Remember 1972."

When Josh Kronfeld claimed the fourth try of the evening from the sweetest of blind overhead flicks from Jeff Wilson in the left corner, those figures seemed less of a dateline than a likely scoreline. Not for long, though. New Zealand looked eminently capable of running up 72 points, but where could Llanelli expect to find 19 of their own?

Kronfeld's strike on the half-hour was immediately followed by a second for Wilson who, along with Randell, was involved twice in the move and finished it by sliding a chip-kick off the outside of his right boot to gather and score to the left of the posts. Of all the 13 tries registered by New Zealand on Saturday night, that one had the lot: pace, dynamism, athleticism, co-ordination, instant support work and, just to top things off, a splash of visionary colour. True rugby folk - and there are none truer than those who live in the shadow of Stradey - would have travelled miles to see it.

Up against the eight ball from the moment Cullen purred into the line for the opening try on five minutes, Llanelli indulged in a curious form of rugby masochism by fluffing every one of their many restarts. In repeatedly presenting Randell, Ian Jones or Robin Brooke with a comfortable catch unhindered by any semblance of a challenge, the Welshmen gave Cullen, Wilson and Mehrtens the run of the paddock.

Tries came thick and fast, almost torrent-like, after the break; there were five-pointers for Marshall on 43 minutes, Cullen on 45 and again on 51, Wilson on 55, Norm Hewitt on 62, Alama Ieremia on 65, Hewitt again on 73 and Zinzan Brooke on 77. Hewitt's were both completed in traditional Sean Fitzpatrick style at the right corner flag - "Well, Norm's had 91 Tests to see how it's done," joked the incapacitated captain - and it was by no means the least of the tourists' achievements that they coped so effortlessly in the absence of their leader.

As Phil Bennett, architect of two victories over the All Blacks a quarter of a century ago, said; "They were magnificent from one to 15. Absolutely faultless. Stradey was at its most passionate at the start, but I've never known it go so quiet." At least Messrs Woodward, Ashton and Bowring have just a little solace to fall back on. After all, those two knock-ons were thoroughly unprofessional.

Llanelli: Penalty Warlow. New Zealand: Tries Cullen 4, Wilson 2, Hewitt 2, Jones, Kronfeld, Marshall, Ieremia, Z Brooke; Conversions Wilson 2, Mehrtens 2, Preston; Penalties Mehrtens 2.

Llanelli: D Williams; W Procter, N Boobyer, S Jones, W Leech; C Warlow, R Moon (A Thomas, 60); R Jones (H Williams-Jones, 72), R McBryde (capt), S Gale, S Ford, M Voyle, C Wyatt, H Jenkins (P Morris, h-t), I Jones (A Gibbs, 66).

New Zealand: C Cullen; J Wilson (J Stanley, 58), F Bunce, A Ieremia, G Osborne; A Mehrtens (J Preston, 68), J Marshall (capt); C Dowd, N Hewitt, O Brown, R Brooke, I Jones, A Blowers, T Randell, J Kronfeld (Z Brooke, 56).

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

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