While Matilda had cause to waltz in celebrating the Wallabies’ 23-18 Suncorp Stadium rugby test triumph, the All Blacks fans were left to ponder on the importance of their missing stars.
While Lima Sopoaga and Scott Barrett have made progress this year, they didn’t have the impact of the test-hardened Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick, both of whom have won International Rugby Player of the Year awards.
Nor does Damian McKenzie, hero of the hard-fought Cape Town triumph against South Africa, have the all-round game of Ben Smith who is on a well-earned sabbatical.
Other first stringers out of action with injuries include nippy right wing Nehe Milner-Skudder and props Owen Franks and Joe Moody who have been replaced by Waisake Naholo, Nepo Laulala and Kane Hames who have all done the jersey proud.
It reflects well on the depth of talent at the disposal of selectors Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox who have not been afraid to give youth its head.
Another to grab his chance was Jordie Barrett who would probably have been preferred to McKenzie as the starting fullback had injury not sidelined him for the season.
With Rieko Ioane, Ngani Laumape, Vaea Fifita, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and David Havili other recent All Blacks who will be joined by newcomers Matt Duffie. Jack Goodhue, Tim Perry and Asafo Aumua on the northern tour, the selectors are building for the future.
Harbour and Blues right wing Duffie, a former St Kents student, has a good all-round game and has been preferred to Julian Savea.
At 20, electrifying left wing Ioane is already a star and speedy blindside flanker Fifita scored a sensational try in his test debut against Argentina.
The prolific try-scoring fast and powerful Aumua has the potential to be an even better attacking hooker than Dane Coles.
Meanwhile full credit to Australia for their long-awaited win against an All Blacks team that lacked discipline and were punished accordingly by referee Wayne Barnes.
With Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau dangerous attackers and Reece Hodge capping his early intercept try with a crucial 53m penalty goal, Australian pride was restored although two earlier wins against them ensured the Bledisloe Cup remains in NZ.
The truth of the adage “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” was reflected in the bone-crunching tackles made by Sam Cane and captain Kieran Read.
Apart from a senseless kicking away of possession in the dying stages, Sonny Bill Williams had his best game of the season and was the pick of the backs.
Meanwhile another Canterbury versus Tasman Mitre Cup 10 premiership final this Saturday in Christchurch reflects the strength of the Crusaders franchise.
Having taken the Ranfurly Shield from Canterbury with a magnificent comeback, Taranaki would have fancied their chances but were pipped 30-29 by Tasman.
Although losing their semi-final 35-24 to Canterbury, North Harbour can reflect on a good season under astute coach Tom Courtney with their 50-plus win against woeful Auckland a highlight.
Having beaten a much improved Northland 49-21, Wellington should win the championship final against tenacious Bay of Plenty who accounted for Otago 48-32.
A return to the premiership would be just reward for the Lions who have Jackson Garden-Bachop, Thomas Umaga-Jenson and Wes Goosen starring in a classy backline.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author.