Rugby Union: Black magic destroys London: A full house at Twickenham is bewitched as the impressive New Zealanders take wing to get their tour off to a flying start

Click to follow
The Independent Online
London . . . . . 12

New Zealand. . . 39

THE SPELL has been cast. To that All Black magic that we know so well can be added several more tricks which promise to make this tour an enthralling one. The All Blacks scored five tries, handsome and elegant, and with four of them being converted by Matthew Cooper, who also kicked two penalty goals, the All Blacks' greatest worry, that they might have no adequate replacement for Grant Fox, has also been eased.

It is probably no exaggeration to say that in the first half-hour of this match, the All Blacks' wings Jeff Wilson, who scored two tries, and Va'aiga Tuigamala handled the ball more often than many of their predecessors have done on entire tours. This was in no small way due to the performance of their half-backs Stephen Bachop, also the scorer of two tries, and Stu Forster. Miniatures they may be in stature, but certainly not in skill or ability. Time and again they wove their patterns into the richest of tapestries.

It was all too much for London's defence, which, too often, failed to withstand the relentless pounding from Tuigamala and Frank Bunce. Bunce was the outstanding player on the field and on countless occasions tore through London's fragile midfield defence, at one point creating the simplest of tries for Wilson.

On the other flank Tuigamala gave Tony Underwood the most torrid of afternoons. Like a moth to the flame Underwood seemed irresistibly drawn to his opposite number, but ended up so badly burned that the wounds, psychological rather than physical, may not have healed in time for the international match next month.

It was not surprising that London's spirit, which sustained a brief but exciting spell of pressure in the second half, should ultimately have been crushed by elementary skills executed at breathtaking pace and with slide-rule accuracy. But when it came to the unremittingly tense forward exchanges, in which there was awesome tackling, London's Rory Jenkins, who had come into the side almost as an afterthought, had a marvellously encouraging afternoon. The bruising strength of some of his tackles will have left as much of a mark on the All Blacks as he most emphatically did on the match. His try came at the end of a delightful move involving Carling, the gloriously cavalier Davies, Oti and Hopley, and fleetingly exposed cracks in the tourists' game.

They are cracks which can be quickly sealed, although the All Blacks' line-out was ominously short of options. Jamie Joseph, when he was moved up to the middle, appeared more productive than either Steve Gordon or Ian Jones.

Old habits die hard, though, and when the All Blacks found themselves under pressure they reverted to the game they know best. That oppressive black blanket covered the field, driving in unison and harrying London into errors. The pressure was simply too much. Ball retention and ball control were found wanting. Rob Andrew, in addition to missing three kickable penalties, on several occasions declined to take advantage of obvious overlaps and generally cannot have advanced his chances of supplanting Stuart Barnes in the England side.

Assuming that the irrepressible Davies is not a serious contender at full-back, few in the London side did manage to further their claims. Quite the best moment of the match, though, came towards the end, when Sean Fitzpatrick, the All Blacks' skipper, set off on a dash reminiscent of Wilson Whineray, his illustrious predecessor 30 years ago. But Fitzpatrick's run, instead of ending in glory, came to grief on Davies, who may claim a palpable tackle on the All Black hooker. The general view, however, was that he just couldn't get out of the way in time. Had Fitzpatrick released the ball then young Wilson would have been accorded the real privilege of scoring a hat-trick on his first appearance at the game's headquarters, although whether the rookie will consider it prudent to criticise his captain for his undoubted selfishnesss is another matter.

It was by any standards a spectacular opening to a tour which, had it been achieved by a Lions side, would have received ecstatic reviews. The All Blacks are likely to be more critical, but they have found in Bachop a free-running fly-half, the complete opposite to Fox, but one who may turn out to be every bit as lethal. His first try followed a typical passage of All Blacks play, the ball switching from one side of the field to the other before Joseph made the final drive along London's left flank. Back came the ball and Tuigamala provided the link for Bachop to score in the corner.

Wilson, the 19-year-old about whom we are destined to hear much more by the end of the tour, scored the first of his two tries as a result of one of London's frequent defensive lapses and, with Cooper converting and kicking two penalties, the All Blacks were out of sight within 10 minutes of the second half. There was no way back for London, and although by the end play resembled the music hall rather more than grand opera, with Bachop, Martin Berry and Wilson scoring tries with almost contemptuous ease, and Chris Oti racing over for London's second try in the last second of the match, it will take a performance of supreme quality to beat Fitzpatrick's tourists.

LONDON: H Davies (Wasps); T Underwood (Leicester), D Hopley (Wasps), W Carling (Harlequins), C Oti; R Andrew (capt), S Bates (Wasps); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), A Snow (Harlequins), D Ryan, M Greenwood (Wasps), C Sheasby (Harlequins); R Jenkins (London Irish).

NEW ZEALAND: M Cooper (Waikato); V Tuigamala (Auckland), F Bunce (North Harbour), M Berry (Wellington), J Wilson; S Bachop, S Forster (Otago); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown (Auckland), S Gordon (Waikato), I Jones (North Auckland), J Joseph, A Pene (Otago), P Henderson (Southland).

Referee: P Thomas (France).

Scores: Bachop (try) 15 mins, 0-5; Cooper (pen) 25, 0-8; Wilson/Cooper (try/con) 30, 0- 15; Cooper (pen) 48, 0-18; Jenkins/Andrew (try/con) 50, 7-18; Bachop/Cooper (try/con) 58, 7-25; Berry/Cooper (try/con) 70, 7-32; Wilson/Cooper (try/con) 76, 7-39; Oti (try) 80, 12-39.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments