Savea sizzles as All Blacks sound out warning
June 9, 2012
New Zealand's Julian Savea is congratulated on scoring © Getty Images
New Zealand wasted little time in underlining their status as the world's best team with a clinical victory over Ireland in Auckland.
It may have been a new-look line-up, with many key figures having moved on since their memorable Rugby World Cup triumph, but they still had too much class for an Ireland side that had high hopes coming into this tour.
The hosts were out to impress and despite having ended their World Cup drought, the desire was clearly still there. Free of that heavy burden they found an attacking edge often absent during their successful assault on the sport's biggest prize. The faces may have changed - including in the coaches' box where Steve Hansen has taken over from Graham Henry - but the high standards in terms of performance remain.
None looked hungrier to impress than Hurricanes winger Julian Savea, who claimed a superb hat-trick on his Test debut, which also included over 100m with ball in hand and a sprinkling of line-breaks. Powerful and packed with pace, his performance drew immediate comparisons with the great Jonah Lomu and like his legendary predecessor he profited from the excellence of his team-mates, most notably fellow debutant Aaron Smith. The Highlanders' scrum-half helped set the tone for his side's dominant display and was often the creative spark.
Despite the headline-grabbing efforts of the new boys, it was a couple of old stagers whose fingerprints were all over this game. Captain Richie McCaw was at his industrious best from start to finish and he clearly shows no signs of resting on his laurels. He was constantly seen laying down the law to his side despite their comfortable cushion on the scoreboard and it is that pursuit of excellence that should have the rest of the world worried.
While others debate the future of Dan Carter, the peerless playmaker goes on doing what he does best. Cruelly stripped of a starring role in the latter stages of the World Cup through injury, Carter may not have been at his best but he thrived on his return to Eden Park with an eye-catching display with boot and ball. Denied a crowd-pleasing score in the dying moments of the game, Carter, and the All Blacks in general, will no doubt kick on from this game having shaken off the ring rust and that is ominous news for Ireland.
The visitors battled bravely in the opening exchanges and held their own for much of the first half except in one key area - the scoreboard. How frustrating it must be to compete with the world's best on their own patch and yet see so little return. Without the enviable clinical edge of their opponents, they were unable to unsettle the hosts and soon found themselves chasing the game.
An early penalty from fly-half Jonathan Sexton and an all-action opening promised much but it failed to materialise into anything substantial. Even the in-form Rob Kearney, considered the best fullback in the northern hemisphere, struggled to make an impact, with his All Blacks counterpart Israel Dagg having no such trouble. Unsurprisingly Ireland lacked nothing in commitment - legendary centre Brian O'Driscoll was involved throughout with the odd try-saving tackle and crucial turnover helping to stem the All Black tide.
The likes of centre Keith Earls and winger Fergus McFadden offered brief glimpses of their game-breaking best but it was no more than that. In truth, Ireland may struggle for positives as they contemplate the second Test in Christchurch next weekend. Despite their best efforts, the game was as good as gone by half-time and you sense that their tour may have peaked before they headed to the tunnel.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
Firdose Moonda talks to Rob Louw about the difficulties of being a South African touring New Zealand at the height of Apartheid
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games