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Why the All Blacks should resist change in Dunedin

Well, Eden Park sure didn’t live up to the hype.

Ireland surged from the kick-off. After a kicking duel early, they settled into the game, were strong in the collisions and dominant at the breakdown. The try to Keith Earls was superbly worked and well finished; a nice step meant Jordie Barrett, isolated on the flank, could only hang on as the Irish veteran crossed the chalk.

I have to confess to having concerns at the ease with which the All Blacks were being turned over and admiration for the Irish counter-ruck. They were also getting in behind the defensive line. Another sluggish start for the All Blacks capitalised on by the men in emerald and the television was copping a verbal barrage from myself and some erstwhile friends.

We needn’t have been so despondent. At around the 20-minute mark the switch was flicked and some strong rush defence saw spilled ball neatly claimed, and the scoreboard started racking up points. The All Blacks forwards came into their own, hitting hard and early in defence and carrying strongly across the gain. That and some deft kicking split the edges and points accumulated.

The All Blacks scrum and lineout were not just solid but weaponised, and we saw the best second quarter from the All Blacks in recent memory. The game was effectively gone. That hadn’t occurred to the visitor though, who piled pressure on the All Blacks line. The All Blacks defence held, and it was the much-maligned Scott Barrett leading the tackle count. Rieko Ioane, often criticised for his defensive positioning, chimed in with try-savers.

Beauden Barrett had a great game apart from a couple of aimless kicks, ran well and distributed well, and his grubber for Quinn Tupaea only matched by big Pita Gus Sowakula’s first try in black. It was refreshing to see a back row strong in their core and combination.

My feeling was one of triumph and relief. However, even in that emotion there was some caution. Ireland created opportunities they were unable to convert, had periods of domination and did not get the rub of the green from the referee that may have seen them go a lot deeper into the contest.

Ireland will be better in Dunedin. Joey Carbery is a decent replacement despite Jonathan Sexton’s resume. If they can play how they did in that opening quarter, sustain that advantage, shore up their set piece and get in behind the All Blacks more often, they will be the threat recent history has proven them to be.

The All Blacks will have David Havili and Jack Goodhue back, but Sam Cane has said Will Jordan may be another week. Frankly, Jordan would have been the only change I would have made, in his best position, except reversing the hookers and maybe debuting Folau Fakatava at his home ground for Finlay Christie. The latter is a big call after an energetic display from Christie, but I’m a fan of Fakatava’s promise.

Maybe save the third Test for any changes. Let’s use this group that showed such promise to bury the series before the exposure these tours usually bring. Both the back row and midfield should benefit from more time in the saddle together.

Frankly, they deserve it.

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