As Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific match between the Crusaders and Blues showed off many of the All Blacks who will play at the Rugby World Cup in France later this year, Ireland showed in Dublin the standard New Zealand will have to reach to win the tournament for the fourth time.
Ireland beat England 29-16 to complete a Six Nations grand slam for the fourth time and to reaffirm their standing as the No.1 team in world rugby.
In Auckland, the Blues and Crusaders jointly fielded 21 All Blacks and played out an action packed match which was won 34-28 by the Crusaders who improved their record for the season to 2-2 after a slow start.
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The match saw nine tries, two disallowed tries, two yellow cards and a correct but pivotal decision by the referee which reduced the Blues to 13 men just before halftime and allowed the Crusaders to take a 10-point lead which helped clinch the win.
Former All Blacks winger Leicester Fainga’anuku scored two of this three tries on either side of half time as the Crusaders took a peak lead of 31-21 which they were just able to defend.
The match shed a light on the All Blacks depth of wingers.
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The Blues’ Mark Telea and Caleb Clarke and the Crusaders’ Fainga’anuku and Sevu Reece all are All Blacks.
Telea and Clarke were major figures in the match for their powerful ball carrying and are likely to be members of New Zealand’s World Cup squad while the Crusaders pair more than likely will also be chosen.
Veteran lock Sam Whitelock played a lion-hearted role for the Crusaders which included winning the final turnover which sealed his team’s win as the match ended with the Blues hot on the attack.
Whitelock is crucial to the All Blacks’ World Cup hopes.
His second row partner and Crusaders captain Scott Barrett also was prominent and will play a vital role for the All Blacks.
The Crusaders and Blues teams contained four All Blacks props and others on the cusp of selection.
The set piece contest went strongly in favour of the Crusaders in the first half but the Blues made some gains in the second.
Barring injuries, New Zealand will take a strong group of props to the World Cup but probably none to match France’s Uini Atonio or Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong.
Nor could the All Blacks match Ireland or France on the evidence of Saturday’s match.
Contests like Saturday’s provide great entertainment but also ingrain bad habits which the All Blacks repeat.
There were some great attacking and outstanding support play from players such as Fergus Burke and Dallas McLeod for the Crusaders, Stephen Perofeta for the Blues and great last ditch defence from Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga and others.
But the match as a whole didn’t measure up to the standard Ireland achieves, admittedly at Test level.
Poor kicking is now endemic in New Zealand rugby but there were also too many handling errors and a general lack of precision.
The Chiefs and ACT Brumbies kept their unbeaten records through the weekend’s fifth round.
The Chiefs broke away late to beat the Melbourne Rebels 44-25 while the Brumbies beat Moana Pasifika 62-36 in a match in which 98 points and 14 tries were scored.
“62 points, you’ve got to be happy,” Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said.
“It was a hard fought game, tight at halftime. Every time we got out to a lead they came back and they had some big boys.
“We’ve got a bit to work on there in terms of our physicality and contact but I thought the bench came on and really lifted the team.”
The luckless Highlanders beat the Western Force 43-35 on Sunday for their first win of the season while the Queensland Reds edged the Fijian Drua 27-24 in Brisbane.
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