Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Cup

ABs have plenty to work on

ABs have plenty to work on

By Lee Stace at Carisbrook

IF THE ordinary footy served up in this test is any indication of what’s to come, then the All Blacks will need to lift their game considerably for their Tri Nations opener against the Springboks in Wellington.

The Graham Henry-coached side scored eight tries to two in the second farewell to Carisbrook that also doubled as fundraiser for earthquake-ravaged Christchurch.

But this 60-14 victory was far from a polished display. It was listless, rusty and at times stifled. In fact, it was only at the end of the first and second halves that the All Blacks played their best footy.

However, let’s take nothing away from the Flying Fijians. Despite the lopsided scoreline, they were worthy opponents and battled valiantly for 80 minutes.

But for all its pride, passion and commitment, Fiji’s discipline – it had conceded four penalties after just six minutes of play – was poor, while it was also struggled to match the power of the hosts up front.

Still, it will take heart from a golden 22-minute period after the interval where it put the Men in Black under pressure and kept them scoreless.

For the All Blacks, there were some fine individual performances.

Top of that list would be Adam Thomson. The curly-haired blindside got through a truckload of work, made a menace of himself at the breakdown, pulled down valuable lineout ball and led the tackle count with 13.

Colin Slade directed traffic well at first five, finishing the game with 19 points courtesy of a try and a six-from-seven kicking display, while Piri Weepu was sharp off the bench and played a key role in two of his side’s four second half tries. The under-fire Sitiveni Sivivatu also showed some nice touches during a busy 50-minute night on the wing.

However, Ali Williams had a mixed bag in his first test since the end of 2008, with some handling errors cancelling out his good work at lineout time, while debutant Jarrad Hoeata was rather quiet.

Yet while things went well individually, collectively the All Blacks were out of sync. That was especially the case early on when they looked rushed and tried to do too much too early.

However, when they were patient and strung the phases together, they were able to score some cracking tries.

Sivivatu was involved in much of the early play and got the ball rolling after 10 minutes, when he crossed in the corner following a sustained passage of play.

It took a quarter of an hour for the All Blacks’ next try, with Slade re-gathering a well-weighted kick to score between the sticks.

When Thomson and Hore crossed not long before halftime, it appeared the All Blacks were beginning to warm to their work. However, the floodgates never opened in the second half.

Whereas the All Blacks reverted to the lateral running that blighted their game in the first 40, the visitors did everything right for the first 22 minutes of the second stanza. They defended stoically, were able to string together multiple phases and put the All Blacks under pressure.

Their reward came when, from turnover ball, standout halfback Nemia Ranuku – the star of Fiji’s performance, closely followed by workaholic lock Seko Kalou – was on hand to score a brilliant try after a long break by No 8 Sakiusa Matadigo.

Weepu added some much-needed impact when he replaced Jimmy Cowan, his deft kick in behind the defence from a scrum move allowing Conrad Smith to edge out Hurricanes teammate Ma’a Nonu in a race to the loose ball in the in-goal after 62 minutes for the All Blacks’ first points in the second half. The chunky Hurricanes halfback got his name on the score sheet six minutes later, when he linked with Mils Muliaina and Ben Smith.

Replacement Vereniki Goneva showed some individual brilliance to double Fiji’s try tally, but as had been case for the whole match, the All Blacks scrum was proving too tough to handle for Fiji and the hosts were awarded a penalty try when the Fiji eight folded like Hanover Finance close to their line during an attempted pushover try attempt.

All Blacks 60
Tries: Sivivatu, Slade, Hore, Thomson, C Smith, Weepu, penalty try, Muliaina
Cons: Slade (4), Carter (3)
Pens: Slade (2)

Fiji 14
Tries: Ranuku, Goneva
Cons: Bai (2)

Halftime: 32-0 All Blacks

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