The All Blacks make a triumphant return with an impressive win against Ireland at Eden Park. Video / Sky Sports
It would be easy to look at the score and believe the All Blacks began their season with an emphatic, critic-answering display that left little doubt about their readiness to ascend to world rugby’s
They certainly answered many of the questions that have been clinging to them since the tail end of last year, but by no means all of them.
What matters most, though, was they did enough to dispel the myth that they are plagued by a physical frailty that manifests in the face of stiff, up-the-guts northern opposition.
It wasn’t as if New Zealand were the wrecking ball to Ireland’s poorly constructed tower block, but the All Blacks did make a bit of a mess of the visitors’ scrum.
They also troubled them at the lineout and, just as importantly, didn’t let Ireland ignite a driving maul of any note.
In the harder-to-assess business of which team edged the collisions and the breakdown warfare, it wasn’t so clear-cut, other than to be certain the All Blacks were infinitely improved in this department compared with their last performance against Ireland.
If there was a winner at the collisions, it was probably New Zealand, who will be irked at how little possession they had and held on to, but on the plus side, will be delighted by the tenacity and ferocity of their defense.
Ireland ended up looking short of ideas and even a little gun-shy at times – uncertain where to go or what to do and feeling the impact of a number of solid hits.
Defense is a big part of the physical package and while New Zealand would rather have played more with the ball than they did, there will be deep satisfaction that the aggression of their tackling opened up several attacking opportunities.
And probably of most satisfaction will be the knowledge they have gained which is that when they can generate the quick attacking ball they crave, they are almost impossible to contain.
Ireland were blown away by a 10-minute spell in the first half when the All Blacks were able to hold possession and recycle it quickly enough to stretch the Irish defense one way then the other.
When they had that period of continuity, Ireland were toast: they couldn’t live with the speed of the attack, and for the All Blacks, the next two weeks will be about finding ways to generate prolonged periods when they are in control of possession and the pace of the game.
But as far as first-test-of-the-season performances go, this was one which created more hope than despair and may even have planted some green shoots of optimism and maybe an outbreak of perspective and realism.
What the performance alluded to was that the world last year looked a lot different to the world now. It always does in November, but last year saw things take an exaggerated skew with the All Blacks forced into a bio-bubble for 15 weeks.
In those final weeks of their long and arduous tour, they met a fresh and motivated Irish team who were playing in front of a passionate home crowd for the first time in two years.
The balance was tipped in Ireland’s favor and they were good enough to take advantage and make it count – seemingly exposing endless flaws in an All Blacks team who everyone said were frail, unimaginative and pedestrian.
When France did much the same the following week, they set the nation into its usual dark fug: that spiral of doom where the truth gets lost in the rush to assassinate the character of all those connected to the team.
Perspective was kicked for touch and the usual nonsense about the All Blacks being in terminal decline began and wild ideas that the end of the world was nigh flourished.
The All Blacks were never that bad, Ireland never that good and now we are in July, with the balance tipping back in favor of the southern sides, perspective needs to be applied again.
New Zealand ticked the boxes they needed to secure the win. They got the big ticket items of scrum, lineout, breakdown and defense right but they were not faultless, nor so dynamic and ruthless to believe they are going to breeze through the rest of this season.
They have laid a good foundation, shown they can do the tough stuff, but they will need to add ball retention, finesse and a heavy dose of flair if they are to evolve into the team they want to be.