All Blacks blow Sprinkboks away
IF THERE was a growing uneasiness brewing about the growing threat across the Tasman, much of its momentum will have been stopped by an All Black performance last night that provided the same sort of comfort as a toasty-hot fire.
Anything Australia can do, so it seems, the All Blacks can do better. Certainly they can scrummage. They can win their lineout ball. And they can play with enterprise and bravado just like the Wallabies.
There was some stunning pass and catch football; simple rugby where the ball was moved before and out of contact. The last 15 minutes was all about basic skills and innate rugby intelligence and the tries by Zac Guildford and Colin Slade in that period were built on the foundation values of keeping things simple and accurate.
They didn't want to throw the kitchen sink at the Boks. The time for showing everything lies ahead. What they wanted to do was build the component parts of their game and they did exactly that.
Their control at the collision was greatly improved on their work against Fiji. They had the hunger back to counter ruck and put numbers on the Springbok ball carrier to successful hold them up.
They also wanted to be more creative with the ball and there were some clever improvisations. Cory Jane was used at first receiver on occasion to allow Carter to slide into the middle of the field and dictate affairs from there.
And all the time there were legions of dummy runners in front of the ball which is fine in the Tri Nations but guaranteed to have those from the north up in arms when they get down here for the World Cup.
Admittedly the South Africans made life a little too easy for the All Blacks. They ran hard and straight when they had the ball but they appear to be stuck in 2009, building everything around the set-piece and a kicking game. Yet it's clear watching both the All Blacks and the Australians that rugby is now about turnover and tackled ball.
The Boks were strangely reluctant to compete which meant the All Blacks never had to throw numbers to the breakdown and were also able to survive at times when the ball carrier had become isolated.
With momentum and numerical advantage they were always going to be impossible to stop especially with Daniel Carter pulling the stick back into a higher gear.
Carter was Quade Cooper and more. His goal-kicking aside he oozed this reassuring composure that said he's not ready to be toppled from his throne by Cooper just yet.
His vision at times was extraordinary - his grubber on the angle out of defence that sat up for Ma'a Nonu early in the first half was exquisite. So too was the way he finished the move off by accelerating and then releasing Zac Guildford.
He made another devastating run early in the second half where he threw a dummy and took off. As he ran the defence backed off as if they too wanted to have a decent vantage point from which they could admire the grace and balance of the All Black No10.
It deserved a better finish than Nonu coming close but the consolation was that Jane was able to score in the opposite corner from the ensuing scrum. It was his second of the night, the first a thing of beauty as he blasted into space and then skipped past the flailing Morne Steyn who played at fullback.
Scoring would have been the first time in 2011 that Jane has felt anything other than despair on his home ground and maybe now his season from hell has ended.
The Jane of old appears to have ousted the imposter who took residence in the first half of the year and the All Blacks were able to show their enviable depth in the final quarter.
They could take Conrad Smith off and bring on Sonny Bill Williams and while it took the big man a few plays to bed in, once he did, the All Blacks went up another level again.
Adam Thomson became more prominent and must have all but secured his World Cup spot. He's a good footballer and effectively clinched the hat-trick last night; six, seven or eight - he makes it seem like the number on his back doesn't matter.
The intensity will rise sharply this week and the pace of the game won't be dictated exclusively by the All Blacks. But they look ready for whatever it is the Wallabies can bring.
New Zealand 40 (W. Crockett, Z. Guildford 2, C. Jane 2, C. Slade tries; D. Carter 2 cons, 2 pens). South Africa 7 (J. Smit try; M. Steyn con). Halftime: 18-7.