1,500 kilometres east of Australia in the southwest Pacific Ocean lay two large islands and a lot of smaller islands. These islands may only have a population of just over four million but this country has been responsible for showcasing some of the world’s best rugby players.
For years players such as: Fred Donald, Don Clarke, Sean Fitzpatrick, Grant Fox, Dave Gallaher, Michael Jones, Ian Kirkpatrick, Sir John Kirwin, Sir Brian Lochore, Jonah Lomu, Colin Meads, Graham Mourie and George Nepia just to name a few have all taken to the largest stage in the famous All Black jersey to showcase their talents.
Then you have the likes of 95 cap hooker Kevin Mealamu, 86 caps prop Tony Woodcock, Talismanic captain Richie McCaw who has 106 caps, Daniel Carter, one of the greatest fly-halves of this generation is on 87, the underrated Conrad Smith is on 58 and let’s not forget 100 cap full back Mils Muliaina. You can add the likes of Brad Thorn, who seems to have won every trophy possible in both league and union and all time leading try scorer Doug Howlett to the list.
The All Blacks have had some amazing players over the years and what astounds me is their still producing them. Before the world cup last year ESPN ran a documentary about rugby in New Zealand and watching it I was amazed at how passionate the country is. Every player has that dream of playing for the All Blacks and pulling on that iconic black jersey, each generation of kids who first pick up the ball have that icon who they want to emulate
The latest test series against Ireland provided the rest of us to see how the newly crowned world champions would deal with a new coach and some fresh faces in the side. Brodie Retallick became only the second youngest All Black lock alongside Sam Whitelock who I still can’t believe is only 23! The Electric passing of Aaron Smith saw him partner Dan carter in the half-backs and Hurricanes winger Julian Savea caused a storm by scored a Hat-trick in that game. This was only the 1st game of the series.
The team for the 2nd test remained largely unchanged apart from Adam Thomson coming in for Victor Vito and the All blacks managed to scrape through thanks to a Carter drop goal late on. The 3rd test bought the likes of Ben Smith onto the wing, Luke Romano played alongside 3 test veteran Brodie Retallick, World cup fly-half Aaron Cruden lit up the game for 24 minutes, tearing apart the Irish defence with Sonny Bill Williams, before injury ended his night and promising young fly-half Beauden Barrett replaced him and 20 year old chiefs loose forward Sam Cane played at openside flanker with McCaw at number 8 and Liam Messam on the Blindside.
What was interesting about this game was, not only the extraordinary 60-0 score line but the fact that the likes of Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Cory Jane, Richard Kahui were missing and Richie McCaw shifted out of position to allow Cane to play at 7.
I want to focus on Cane for a while if I may. Since 2003 McCaw has held the seven jersey with nobody getting close to the talismanic captain, and how could they? With McCaw being regarded as one of the greatest of all time. But after watching 20 year old Cane on Saturday I think we may have already found the replacement. It huge pressure on such a young player but he’ll have to deal with it quickly and will have to keep on improving but I was very impressed with what I saw as the chiefs loose forward ransacked Ireland, His tackling and turnover rate was superb and his support play netted him two tries
So with this latest line of talent coming off the conveyer belt it’s no surprise. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this new bunch of talented youngsters become the next generation of All Black legends if you add to that the likes of Ben Tameifuna of the Chiefs, Brad Shields and Andre Taylor (both Hurricanes) and Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders along with the talented Baby Blacks, keep an eye on 18 year old centre Jason Emery, they have unbelievable strength in depth. If you’re a northern hemisphere rugby fan I’m afraid playing New Zealand won’t be getting easier any time soon. I think a quote from Jonah Lomu sums it up best: “It’s life, that’s the best way to put it, It’s life”.