A backline master class with slick passing to dynamic wings Sevu Reece, Will Jordan and replacement Rieko Ioane highlighted a resounding 60-13 All Blacks rugby win against Fiji at Hamilton on Saturday night.
With the physical Fijians making a storming start over the first quarter before their fitness fell away against the All Blacks’ superior speed and cohesion, the selectors would have been relieved at the improvement at the breakdown.
With Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick performing well in the tight after the latter’s long stint in Japan, loose forwards Luke Jacobson, Akira Ioane and and the tigerish Ardie Savea excelled.
There is an innate intelligence and directness about No 8 Jacobson’s robust game and he also excels at the breakdown. However the real revelation was the powerful surges by hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho who came off the reserves bench late and bulldozed his way to two stunning tries.
Playing outside classy Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga, David Havili looks set for a long tenure as Anton Lienert-Brown’s centre partner, blessed as he is with vision and the knack of doing the right thing with near perfect timing. His backhand in setting up one of Reece’s three tries was perfection.
Along with wings Will Jordan, Jordie Barrett and George Bridge, Havili can also play fullback, as can Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie who can double as first-fives.
Switching from right wing to left was no problem for the lightening quick Reece, the game’s most dangerous attacker.
On coming off the reserves bench late, it was also good to see Rieko Ioane confirm he remains a better wing than centre although the extra experience has improved his game there too.
Although spoilt for choice among his backs, head coach Ian Foster still needs to improve his muscular presence in the tight five to be confident of dominating there against the world’s best.
It’s a challenge that must be met if they are to regain the World Cup in 2023 and break the 3-3 deadlock they have with South Africa.
Hopefully Australia will provide a sterner test although they were mightily relieved to pip France in the dying minutes after losing to them in the same manner in their previous clash.
Meanwhile the brilliance of the Elisapeta Toeava/Grace Nweke combination has justifiably carried the Northern Mystics into their first ANZ Premiership netball final following a narrow 56-54 win against the Central Pulse.
No one in the country passes better than explosive wing attack Toeava and no one jumps higher with perfect timing than 19-year-old, 6ft 4in Nigerian-born goal shoot Nweke.
Invariably on the rare occasions she fails to goal, she gets the rebound.
With the Tactics hoping to secure second spot on Sunday, their match against the Mystics should be a cracker, especially with in-form Karin Burger and Jane Watson doing their utmost to contain Nweke.
The normally well-drilled Tactix struggled against the Magic before snatching a 49-47 win last up when Burger and Watson’s fast reflex defence swayed the result. And with the Southern Steel having upset the Mystics in the previous round the competition is tight.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer