Shaken But Not Stirred
by Paul Waite
18 Nov 2001
Beginnings are always important. With the All Blacks, it was essential to kick off the Mitchell Era with a win, and a good foundation in terms of the way the team played, to build on for the next World Cup in 2003.
This was achieved in spades last Saturday when the All Blacks beat a fired-up Irish side at Lansdowne Road in the first test of their short end-of-season tour.
Blow by blow details are available elsewhere, but the test delivered several important things. First of all the lineout was flawless with Oliver delivering ball on the button all game, and four Irish throws stolen. Secondly the team showed a composure it lacked in Sydney against Australia, despite being under intense pressure. Those were the main points to stand out, but there were other aspects which were in many ways equally pleasing.
Mitchell has shown us the rare talent of being able to select relatively immature talent for the top level, and making those selections work. In Richard McCaw, the 20-year-old openside flanker we had the undisputed Man of the Match against the Irish, and he looks set to follow in the footsteps of Josh Kronfeld and Michael Jones as one of our best in the No.7 jersey. In Aaron Mauger we also saw a player emerging from NPC level football to show us his abilities at test level. We also got a sneak preview of David Hewett at loosehead prop; another player with huge potential.
In short, the way the All Blacks withstood the Irish passion and, despite being hampered by rustiness in the first forty minutes, asserted themselves to win by a compfortable margin is a very good sign that what you see and hear with John Mitchell is what you get.
Some will try to talk down the win by rubbishing the ability of the Irish side. But under Warren Gatland the improvement in that team is quite marked, and their recent victory over England could not be written off as just a case of the English “having a bad one” that day. The Irish are a totally different prospect from the teams of 1995 and 1997, to be sure.
As well as the basic ability of the team, the home ground factor at Lansdowne Road is also a huge hurdle for any visitor, especially one with several players on debut as was the case with the All Blacks. The way they combined and stayed steady under fire was impressive, and speaks volumes for the way Mitchell motivates his teams.
The Irish test was only one game, but it was an important one. The victory there has provided a platform for Mitchell and his men to move forward and develop. We’ve seen what he can do in a short time, and in a single test. By the end of this tour we will know a little more, but of course the real work begins next year.
In the meantime well done to John Mitchell and the All Blacks, and good luck next week in Scotland.