The huge gains made by relative new caps has been the most pleasing feature of the All Blacks’ progress this year as they head into Saturday’s 100th test against arch enemy South Africa in Townsville.
With fatherhood stopping Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga from making their Rugby Championship trip to Australia, fears they would be seriously missed has not happened.
In fact, Australia suffered their third loss to them before Argentina fell 36-13 on Saturday in Brisbane after 11 changes were made to the All Blacks’ starting team between the last two games,
And it was relative rookies Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ethan Blackadder and Hoskins Sotutu whose relentless work at hooker, blindside flanker and No 8 made them stars of the show in Saturday’s second win against the Pumas.
Taukei’aho is a monster who has rocketed up the hooker rankings at a time when New Zealand has never had such depth.
Young lock Tupou Vaa’i, 21, scored two of the team’s five tries, dynamic stand-in captain Ardie Savea relished the chance to revert back to openside flanker from No 8.where Sotutu thrived and loosehead prop Joe Moody made a strong return after a long absence through injury.
Halfback TJ Perenara enjoyed his normal robust game, first-five Damian McKenzie was content to be a sharp link who ensured his outside backs swift service which speedy centre Rieko Ioane particularly relished.
Jordie Barrett was rock solid at fullback and missed only one of six shots at goal after converting all eight the previous week.
However, although monstered in the scrum, Argentina tackled well when reducing New Zealand to just one second half try after scoring four in the first and unlucky not to have doubled it.
Forward coaches John Plumtree and Greg Feek had cause to be delighted with the skill set of their forwards, especially Sotutu whose pass and footwork made him a danger peeling off the scrum and the dynamic Blackadder and powerful Taukei’aho.
However, the big winner over the weekend was coach Dave Rennie and his Australian team who crunched world champions South Africa 30-17 and elevated New Zealand to top dog status.
That should make the Springboks even more dangerous in next Saturday’s Townsville clash and the selection of the All Blacks that much more interesting with so many first stringers and so few second to choose from.
Having blamed Dave Rennie’s selections for the Wallabies’ poor results against NZ, it’s not the first time former coach and champion loudmouth Alan Jones has had to eat his words, with the recall of Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi master strokes.
In Nic White and and Tate McDermott they have two fantastic halfbacks, a hugely gifted young centre in Len Ikitau and strong scoring wings Marika Koroibete and Andrew Kellaway.
I cannot think of any prop who has a better combination of power and pace than Taniela Tupou, who is still only 25, and Michael Hooper is an inspirational captain.
Meanwhile having won eigh
t from eight this year, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster can turn deaf ears to his dwindling band of critics.
Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer.