By Jim Birchall
After a 400 day test rugby starvation, Sunday’s Bledisloe Cup opener was epic theatre as a wild tempest whipped Wellington’s Sky Stadium.
Pre-match talking points focused on out-of-position selections like towering Beavis ‘wing’ Jordie Barrett (ostensibly there to kick goals into a moody wind), Richie Mo’unga securing the 5/8 job with former super-star pivot Beauden Barrett named at 15, and son-of debutants- Caleb Clarke and Hoskins Sotutu.
After the usual anthems and a haka so choreographed Parris Goebel was probably involved, test rugby was finally back in business.
As we all know by now,it ended 16-16 after a late thump at goal from Reece Hodge (who must never skip leg-day) did everything but go over, and after a intense(and lengthy) period of added time, the referee alleviated the need for defibrillators amongst the capitals’ proletariat.
New coach Ian Foster, already under pressure from his detractors, exhibited a condemned man look as he faced the media pack, almost resigned to a grilling from them-and the scorn of millions of All Black ‘fans.’
Captain Cane was not able to get the All Blacks over the line in a game everyone expected them to win comfortably. His expression immediately post-game like he had just run over his neighbours dog.
In his defence, the new-look Wallabies threw everything in their limited arsenal at the AB’s, and if not for some frankly awful refereeing calls, things could have been at lot worse for coach, captain, and selectors.
In terms of Cane many, including learned rugby minds, have been vocal about whether he is the best available option in his position.I would never claim to be a huge fan of the 69-test open side, but you get to 70 tests for the AB’s being a decent player, and in Cane’s case-bloke.
Todd Blackadder had the same issues with the rabid NZ rugby public, as did Reuben Thorne and Taine Randell.To use a cricket analogy, I always thought of Blackadder as rugby’s version of Lee Germon, where his ‘leadership potential’ was prioritised above ability.
Mercifully, Blackadder’s time at the top was truncated after his 2000 team were sunk by a late John Eales penalty. A previously unblighted record under his tenure was quickly forgotten by the haters and he was quietly moved on the following season and replaced by the out-of-the box rake Anton Oliver.
Sadly i predict the same for Cane. Quite frankly he isn’t even the best 7 at the Chiefs, Lachlan Boshier was the superstar fetcher there during SRA. I do however have some sympathy and the belief he should be persisted with, at least until the drums beating for the installation of break-dancing prodigal son Scott Robertson overwhelm the NZR.
Cane is still finding his feet after a long layoff. I thought he actually had a pretty solid game all-round on Saturday, despite a few captaincy short-comings (see drop goal.)
Looking forward, normal service should be resumed on Sunday at Eden (ASB) Park. For all Dave Rennie’s band of merry rookies & journeymen could throw at the AB’s they still didn’t come away with the result.
In fact, NZ haven’t tasted defeat at the garden of Eden since Adam was a cowboy. I actually was in attendance the last time it happened in 1994, when the French, with typical gallic flamboyance scored the ‘try from the end of the world’ and cruelly exposed defensively a young bank teller named Jonah.
I remember leaving the ground and the crowd who pre-match had been salivating over seeing the young Tongan Colussus,suddenly were directing their barbed mutterings towards the 19-year old wing (not directly to his face mind you), one fellow even going as far to say Jonah should never wear black again.
My point is, when it comes to the All Black’s, the kiwi public does not put up with mediocrity.Instead of celebrating the return of live sports, and quite frankly a fantastic trans-tasman struggle, we instead retreat to our safe spaces and start smashing out keyboard vitriol to anyone that will listen.
Some things will never change.
Join Jim and Gilla on the Sports Happy Hour
Thursdays 5pm-6pm stream at eastfm.nz