Sunday, February 25, 2024

Kiwis fly to victory

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Having avoided a 3-0 whitewash by convincingly winning the third rugby league test 34-0 at Leeds against England on Monday, the Kiwis finally learned to fly.

Not that they were disgraced in losing the first two narrowly but they lacked the creativity man of the match halfback Kodi Nikorima displayed so beautifully in this final stanza.

It’s a pity other Kiwi backs don’t have the draw and perfectly timed pass that comes so naturally to Nikorima although each has other gifts.

A sizzling 40m break by the halfback and a return pass from Shaun Johnson secured Nikorima his try,

Nikorima’s passes set up others for Isaac Liu and Jesse Bromwich and his towering cross-kick notched another for rangy left wing Ken Maumalo.

It was also Johnson’s best match of the series with his much-improved tactical kicking keeping England pinned in their own half.

Full marks to tough props Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Bromwich for spearheading the charge and Kevin Proctor for leading a relentless forward defence.

While there was disappointment in failing to win the series, it should be remembered injury prevented Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Isaac Luke and Tohu Harris from making the trip.

However new captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Brandon Smith performed superbly in replacing Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke at fullback and hooker respectively.

Sadly centre Joseph Manu failed to reproduce the brilliance he showed in the 26-24 triumph over Australia earlier in the year. However he remains a bright prospect.

Meanwhile having scrapped home 16-15 in the rain against England at Twickenham, the All Blacks prepare to face dangerous Ireland in Dublin where coach Steve Hansen believes champion halfback Conor Murray will return from a five-month injury break to partner Jonathan Sexton.

Blessed with a strong, mobile pack and outstanding loosies Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander, world No 2 Ireland will be eager to knock the All Blacks off their perch after going 1-all in their previous two clashes.

They are unlikely to squander the 15-point lead gallant England did and in 21-year-old Jordan Lamour they have found an attacking fullback possessed of Damian McKenzie’s penetrative talent.

It was courageous McKenzie who flew across for the tourists only try at Twickers from a sweetly-timed Beauden Barrett inside pass, with Barrett kicking the conversion and adding two penalties and a drop goal.

Hopefully the selectors will recall that the backline only started to function when Ryan Crotty replaced an injured Sonny Bill Williams.

Williams has been unlucky with injuries since the 2016 Rio Olympics but, at 33, his muscular body obviously hasn’t been able to take the knocks it once could.

While arguments will rage about Sam Underhill’s try that wasn’t, England’s failure to take two kickable shots at goal cost them a rare win against the All Blacks.

However bearing in mind England had15 players unavailable, the All Blacks won’t rate them cheaply at the 2019 Rugby World Cup despite them finishing only fifth in the Six Nations, won by Ireland.

A chief contributor and lineout poacher in their brave comeback win was powerful Brodie Retallick. Despite him having little recent rugby, he remains the world’s best lock.

Although not possessing the same attacking thrust, Sam Whitelock is a masterly lineout exponent and relentless tackling machine to make him the perfect locking partner.

  •  Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author

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