All Blacks cruise home in top Gear
Barbarians 19 - New Zealand 47
Monday 06 December 2004
The New Zealand All Blacks duly completed a hugely successful tour with a romp in this exhibition match against the Barbarians and, in doing so, hinted strongly that this summer's British Lions tour will be an absolute cracker.
As a prospect it is delightful, the best of the Home Nations travelling to the Land of the Long White Cloud for a three-Test series of blood and thunder, passion and history, heartache and heritage.
So it is a pity that Saturday's jamboree was anything but. The fact is the Barbarians fixture has been overtaken by professional rugby, the emergence of the Heineken Cup as the world's premier club competition and the ease and frequency of international tours.
Years ago the All Blacks would never have considered omitting talents such as Daniel Carter or Tana Umaga from such a prestigious fixture, but they did, and the understudies won with ease. This should not surprise as they have trained and worked together for months whereas the Barbarians were a hotch-potch outfit dominated, as the top-class European players were unavailable because of Heineken Cup duty, by South Africans and Australians, with Fiji, Italy and New Zealand represented as well. Top-class rugby is about systems and structures and the Barbarians showed few as they conceded seven tries, Mat Rogers in particular playing as if his mind was already on a distant beach in Australia and the match fee already banked, which it probably was.
Not that any of this deterred the 50,000-strong crowd who cheered every pass and run as if they actually counted for something. The highlights were two well-taken tries by the All Black winger Rico Gear and a 60m sprint under the posts by the South African lock, Albert van den Berg after he intercepted a poor pass in midfield.
In contrast, the first half was disjointed and each side's opening scorecame from pushover mauls. Not exactly in the spirit of the thing but at least they consisted of grunt and graft rather than showboating.
If Sir Clive Woodward was watching - and, considering his attention to microscopic detail it would be unthinkable for him not to - he would have noted the dominance and aggression of the man of the match, Jerome Kaino. The All Black flanker completely outplayed Schalk Burger, the South African wonderboy who has been highly decorated for his performances in the Tri-Nations. In fact, the World Player of the Year has had a miserable month with referees and opposition alike, and his battle against Kaino was no different.
The rest was a seemingly constant series of substitutions, that if they were indeed blood replacements as the laws stipulate would have provided a river of the stuff. If not, it was just another example of the match traducing the true spirit of the game.
One thing that may be seen again was the appearance of Lote Tuquri at outside centre. The Australian winger is a large, powerful runner and his coach, Eddie Jones has mooted the idea before. He worked hard and tackled well without ever breaking free, even against such a broken defence but with Matt Giteau likely to move to fly-half and Stirling Mortlock and Stephen Latham injured, such flexibility will enhance the Wallaby back-line immensely.
For those who prefer their rugby with intensity, though, there was a lot better on offer around the country throughout the weekend. And if they must be wedded to the romantic idea of the Barbarians, they should dust off the videotape of this fixture in 1973 at Cardiff and watch the majority of the 1971 Lions tour defeat a full-strength All Blacks.
Money was not the issue then. Pride and honour were as the All Blacks were still smarting, distraught even at the series loss in 1971. That was proper rugby, intense and passionate and well worth watching.
Barbarians: Tries: Rush, Lo Cicero, Berg; Conversions: Giteau, Rodgers. New Zealand: Tries: Holah, Gear 2, Nonu, Laulala, Kaino, Weepu; Conversions: Mauger 5, Weepu.
Barbarians: M Rogers (Australia); C Latham (Australia), L Tuqiri (Australia), M Turinui (Australia), S Bobo (Fiji); M Giteau ( Australia), J Marshall (New Zealand, capt); B Young (Australia), B Cannon (Australia), F Rautenbach (South Africa), D Vickerman (Australia), A van den Berg (South Africa), S Burger (South Africa), X Rush (New Zealand), P Waugh (Australia). Replacements: R Samo (Australia) for Burger, 38-51; A Tuilevo (Fiji) for Latham, 41; W Greeff (South Africa) for Giteau, 41; A Lo Cicero (Italy) for Young, 41; G Botha (South Africa) for Cannon, 41; A J Venter (South Africa) for Van Den Berg, 41; Samo for Waugh, 52; G Bobo (South Africa) for Turinui, 60; Waugh for Rush, 66.
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Auckland); D Howlett (Auckland), C Laulala (Canterbury), M Nono (Wellington), R Gear (North Harbour); A Mauger (Canterbury, capt), J Cowan (Southland); S Taumoepeau (Auckland), K Mealamu (Auckland), G Somerville (Canterbury), R Thorne (Canterbury), A Williams (Auckland), J Kaino (Auckland), S Bates (Waikato), M Holah (Waikato). Replacements: C Jack (Canterbury) for Thorne, 54; M Tuiali'i (Auckland) for Bates, 54; C Hayman (Otago) for Taumoepeau, 58; A Oliver (Otago) for Mealamu, 58; P Weepu (Wellington) for Cowan, 66.
Referee: A Turner (South Africa).
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