Two weeks into the international season we are starting to get a feel for how the teams will perform in 2010. The All Blacks and Springboks have both looked good in their wins so far as they dispatched their northern hemisphere rivals. The Wallabies haven't been so convincing with two close games against England where each side has won one game each.
The All Blacks started their campaign for 2010 against a Brian O'Driscoll led, Irish team. While the result would indicate a stellar performance from the All Blacks, it was hard to read too much into this performance. This was because of the red card received by Jamie Heaslip 15 minutes into the game meaning the All Blacks were up against a 14 man team for the rest of the game. The Irish were further disadvantaged when Ronan O'Gara was yellow carded nearer to the end of the second half. The All Blacks made use of this period scoring three tries while up against 13 men.
A strong first half performance saw the All Blacks go out to a 38-7 half time lead with debuton Israel Dagg and winger Cory Jane looking dangerous from the back and Daniel Carter controlling play well at first-five.
The second half saw a number of changes and the All Blacks standards drop as the game became scrappy and the Irish ran in three tries of their own to take the final score to 66-28. Although I say you can't read too much into this performance, it is a concern that the All Blacks let in four tries. Particularly when the team they were playing had one less man. You wouldn't beat the Springboks after letting in four tries.
The second test of the season saw the All Blacks travel to Dunedin to take on Wales. It was a momentous occaission, being the final test at Carisbrook before test rugby moves to the new Forsyth Barr Stadium. After a slow start, the All Blacks put on a great show in the second half winning 45-9. Daniel Carter was sensational as he broke the Welsh defence with ease, defended well and kicked excellently, showing us just why he is rated as the best first five in the world. Cory Jane again was outstanding while Joe Rokocoko was good in looking for work and making some good breaks.
The biggest positive to come from these tests is the amount of players that the All Blacks have been able to successfully bring into test rugby. Israel Dagg was outstanding against Ireland, showing he is a very good replacement for when Mils Muliaina leaves. Victor Vito has a huge work rate and ran explosively with ball in hand adding to the list of blindside flankers available selection. Sam Whitelock was very good doing the hard work you expect from a lock while also touching down for two tries against Ireland. Ben Franks appears to be just as capable as his brother Owen and provides the hardnosed grit that has been lacking in the All Blacks front row in recent years. Benson Stanley has been solid at first-five without standing out.
To go with this we have seen the regulars step up too. Dan Carter is back to his best, Conrad Smith looks class, Jimmy Cowan directs play well at halfback, while the back three of Cory Jane, Joe Rokocoko and Israel Dagg looks to be sublime.
In the forwards everyone has been consistent meaning the All Blacks should be capable of matching the Springboks up front.
All of this is very encouraging as the 2010 Tri-Nations approaches, the All Blacks will be a much stronger team than they were last year, and if current form is anything to go by, it will be hard to topple them in the coming weeks.
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