The New Zealand sport writer Malcolm Cocker summed up yesterday’s All Blacks versus Canterbury Crusaders match in two sentences.
“The All Blacks dominated for 50 minutes, had little trouble with the Crusaders in a lot of areas and left Forsyth Barr Stadium with a 26-17 victory,” he wrote.
Crusaders lock Joe Moody got it right. I saw two All Blacks preparing to go into the storm.
In one corner, Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw made a cogent discussion about where the Crusaders were faring and where the All Blacks needed to improve.
“You understand where we are at? We’re attacking the Crusaders less than we do the Blues and the Reds, and we’re not attacking they way that we should.”
In the other corner, Jerome Kaino was making a joke about Adam Thomson’s bruising style. Thomson, of course, was involved in many a tackle in 2009 when he was the captain of the Crusaders.
Jokes about (and about) headbutting aside, there were always deep security doubts about the Canterbury ground, only 100 metres away from a certain US naval base in the south island, the only venue where international rugby matches have been played on five previous occasions.
The double-lockup fiasco, with its communal areas turned into makeshift gyms, doctors practices and apartments, left a nasty taste in the mouth – and it wasn’t very tasty, to put it mildly.
The record crowd of 30,000 – a further 2,000 fans turned up to the stadium on a day that previously hadn’t seen a crowd above 15,000 – was testament to the All Blacks’ spirit and the Crusaders’ brand of aggression.
But it also showed the potential for disaster. First, Canterbury Stadium is in a remote corner of New Zealand. The contract for playing the game was sold out long before the All Blacks’ team was announced.
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New Zealand had, and still has, plenty of options in a city of more than 700,000. It can bring in a team from Invercargill, which can be as near as that area in New Zealand.
Second, the All Blacks’ dominance early in the game had some entertaining characters in the stands. Steffon Armitage and his brother Jamie, who plays for the Canterbury rugby team, were making themselves at home.
The most dangerous person in the stands is probably a petrol monkey, but they are usually more of a nuisance than a threat. The All Blacks’ defence had to be sharp because of that petrol monkey.
On the surface, I give the All Blacks the benefit of the doubt. For every All Black who has needed to be reminded that they are not going to be in charge of everything in every match, another one is likely to pop up in the crowd, ready to break down the steel barrier between their world and ours.
The tourists may well come out strong in the second half at the Eden Park, which has been known to do what Marmaduke Hussey describes as “crashing the party”.
How would the Kiwis react? Will they be hit with a James Hook, Ma’a Nonu and Dan Carter-type mental squeeze, the same way that Eden Park has hit home more than a few sides in the past? Or will they emerge stronger?
The All Blacks bring a message that they can ride their brilliance and still be effective. Their enemies bring nothing except a little bit of danger, which New Zealand should be able to handle.
As another stadium has shown, a Kiwi’s defence must always be at the full strength.