Tuesday, September 11, 2007

These 2007 All Blacks are sheer perfection

With Richie McCaw and Dan Carter pulling the strings, New Zealand looked in a different class during the first round of matches - and it's hard to see anyone beating them.
The talk of the Rugby World Cup opener is, of course, that Les Bleus failed to out-enthuse the Pumas. Argentina now look near-certainties for a semi-final berth, while France will struggle at this rate even to qualify for the quarter-finals. A likely battle against Italy or Scotland could be all that stands in the Pumas' way.

Defending champions England looked far from convincing, and patchy wins by Ireland, Scotland and Wales completed a poor weekend for the Six Nations heavyweights. None of these teams showed anything even resembling the ability to win a world championship.

Meanwhile, the Wallabies and Springboks had excellent victories against Japan and Samoa, but their wins, while impressive, were nothing unexpected and rarely was the collision area competitive.

World Cup favourites New Zealand played the script to perfection. This was Italy, probably the top nation just outside the tier-one teams, with arguably the strongest team in their history - and unlucky not to beat Ireland a few weeks ago. The All Blacks had not played since unconvincingly winning the Bledisloe and Tri Nations. They had relaxed in French sun and had not fired a single broadside in anger.

A late reshuffle forced by the withdrawal of Conrad Smith did not weaken the team. Mils Muliana slotted into the troublesome outside-centre role, and Leon Macdonald came in at fullback. The world's finest front eight, with the sparkling combination of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, saw New Zealand smash the Italians for both personal and media relief.

A 38-point blitz in the first 19 minutes answered all questions. At one point every 30 seconds, there was no talk of rust. The All Black play was reminiscent of their complete style displayed in 2005 and 2006. Italy were not insipid during the game. They were not out of place like Japan and Samoa eventually were. The Azzurri made line breaks and even competed with the vaunted All Black tight five.

But New Zealand looked unbeatable - the absolute perfect game by the planet's finest team to signal intent and purpose at the beginning of a tournament they look like winning easily. No team showed over the weekend - bar the old foes in the Tri Nations - anything that might trouble this impressive New Zealand outfit. Their defence was imposing, and their attack beautiful in its simplicity.

The All Blacks would not be too concerned about meeting France in a likely quarter-final. They scored at nearly a point a minute, and never looked like raising their real menace.

On this performance, this New Zealand team have indeed been tuned to perfection, and look as if they have in fact tapered for an all-conquering assault of the title that has eluded them for 20 years.

Italy were sent reeling, suffering their worst defeat in over three years. This is the most powerful team ever assembled by the All Blacks - and they will be hard to stop over the next seven weeks.

Is winning the Rugby World Cup going to be as easy for the All Blacks as James seems to think? Post your comments below.

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