Rugby Union: New zeal, fresh style: Clem Thomas welcomes a more open approach from a formidable unit

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

IN 88 years of touring the British Isles, the All Blacks have gained a deserved and fearsome reputation for hard, uncompromising play. This is backed up by the stark statistics: of 223 matches played on these shores, they have now won 201, drawn 9 and lost a mere 13.

But this easy victory over London was not achieved with their usual virtuosity in the use of raw and intimidating power, and the use of their forwards as a battering ram, which has in the past has made them appear like men from another planet capable of vaporising British forwards.

In the absence of their talisman Grant Fox, who has scored an average of 14 points in Test matches for the All Blacks, they opted for a far more thoughtful and well-contrived game, yet still concentrating on that old obsession with continuity and pressure. Their young and delightful half-backs, Stu Forster and Steve Bachop, joyfully spread the ball wide at every opportunity using the full width of the pitch. This allowed Frank Bunce to conduct matters in the centre with short passes, loops and various miss-moves.

Rarely have I seen an All Black team play such attractive rugby, and if they keep this up, with their backs showing so much vision, particularly the young halves and those older South Sea warriors Bunce and Tuigamala, then the rugby public of England and Scotland are in for a marvellous time.

The main difference between the two sides was that the All Blacks rarely missed a tackle and in addition put in some really hard hits like one shuddering stop by Henderson on Andrew. Tuigamala also created a fair amount of terror, while London for their part were guilty of powder-puffing.

Although the London pack showed little sign of awe in the early stages and indulged in a series of surprisingly confident drives they soon became disillusioned and their resolution was eroded as the All Blacks exerted pressure in the line-out, which they still compress so cunningly, and then with purposeful determination destroyed London in the rucks and mauls. Only the flanker Rory Jenkins looked remotely in their class.

The London backs were no better, often too clumsy and slow-witted to compete. Both Will Carling and Rob Andrew looked well below par, perhaps past their sell-by date, and they will have do better if they expect to play for England on 27 November.

It certainly appears that New Zealand are embarking on their run-up to the World Cup with a new philosophy, and if yesterday at Twickenham is anything to go by then it will be a most welcome personality change.

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