OPINION: It was rusty... but eh.
Sat, 23 Jul 2011 11:19a.m.
Opinion By Michael Oliver I remember when Jeff Wilson ran in five tries against Fiji in 1997. His third was a regulation draw and pass, a masterclass in glorious simplicity. Afterwards, he stood up, and eyeballed the television cameraman who’d tracked his glide down the sideline as if to say, “A hat trick, what of it?”
It was a different kind of early test. It was a different kind of All Blacks, and certainly a different kind of Fiji. The match is more memorable for Michael Jones being stretchered off early in the second half, leading to the arrival of one T Randell. But for me, the match was indicative of a time and place.
It was a time where the seasoned blacks could snap back together; like frat house alumni meeting at a 20 year reunion, they still knew the clubhouse song by heart.
The 2011 All Blacks aren’t that side. The irrevocable flush of rugby, wall to wall rugby, commands tactile use of player numbers. If you want your top brass in tune come October, you don’t run them ragged against Fiji in July.
So we met a largely second-string AB’s outfit who were simply foot soldiers for the moment. They were dispatched to dispense with Fiji, perk the fitness levels of a few gameless chums, and tease interest in next week’s Springbok encounter.
Oh, and bid Carisbrook a fond ka kite. Again. For good this time.
There was little to gain from this early test. Funds for Christchurch would have been modest, given the modest crowd. The match was never billed as a fair fight, tinging any pieces of flair with a smidge of “Well, it is only Fiji.” Some even likened it to a glorified trial match—and the “Probables” weren’t even on the park.
It was always going to be that game. It was always going to be fluff. Nobody expected champaign, and were hardly put out by the malt liquor dabbled out instead. But we needed this.
The road to October is paved with matches that matter. But this was a match that needed to happen. There was an irrepressible need to sharpen the blades worn dull by no rugby.
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