Home Rugby New Zealand’s ‘New’ Era Looks Scaringly Familiar For The Chasing Nations

New Zealand’s ‘New’ Era Looks Scaringly Familiar For The Chasing Nations

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 11: The All Blacks perform the haka prior to the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Wales at Eden Park on June 11, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is widely regarded as one of the greatest managers in the history of football. A relentless, highly-competitive individual with a special eye for talent, Ferguson brought 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League titles to Old Trafford during his time in charge.

The Glaswegian spent 27 years as United’s number one and was responsible for three generations of football talent as well as ‘Fergie Time’, a period of the game where his team would always seem to pull out a result deep into injury time.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen could be on a similar trajectory in rugby with one Rugby World Cup, three Rugby Championships and four Bledisloe Cups to his name in just four years in charge of the All Blacks.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 09: Head Coach Steve Hansen talks to the media during a New Zealand All Blacks media conference at The Heritage on June 9, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Similar to Ferguson, Hansen-led teams have always had a knack for winning games after trailing heading into the final quarter. The All Blacks denied Ireland a famous first win at the death in 2013, they toppled South Africa last year in Johannesburg and they pulled away from Wales on Saturday after trailing for the majority of the game.

Wales looked all but set to snap a 63-year winless streak against the All Blacks heading into the final 20 minutes of the first Test on Saturday but, having led for the majority of the second half, Warren Gatland’s side capitulated in spectacular fashion as New Zealand ran in three tries in the final quarter to complete a 39-21 rout in Auckland.

But it wasn’t necessarily what Wales did wrong that saw victory slip away from their grasp; it was more what the All Blacks did right, as the Kiwis piled on the pressure when it mattered most.

Truthfully, it could’ve been more if referee Wayne Barnes didn’t disallow TJ Perenara’s try for a highly-questionable forward pass but even without Perenara’s runaway score, the result was still lopsided enough to suggest there will be no drop off in performance from one generation of All Blacks to the next.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 11: Waisake Naholo and Malakai Fekitoa of New Zealand celebrate during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Wales at Eden Park on June 11, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)
Waisake Naholo and Malakai Fekitoa celebrate in Auckland. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

As expected, the majority of the pre-match build-up for the first Test focused on the next generation of All Blacks and whether or not there would be a seamless transition of generational excellence. New Zealand had a new openside, fly-half, a new centre pairing and two debutantes on the bench. They lost over 700 caps of international experience with the international retirements of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu, and they were also without Sam Whitelock (hamstring), Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam (Sevens).

They had at least six players in their starting lineup that would’ve been regarded as second stringers last year and a further four players on the bench that failed to make last year’s World Cup squad.

This was one of the least experienced first-rate New Zealand sides this century and they were facing a Welsh team brimming with Lions players and international experience. However, when it mattered most and the lights shone bright, international experience mattered the least as talent once again reigned supreme for the New Zealanders.

The injection of Beauden Barrett and Perenara off the bench provided some much-needed spark and energy, Ardie Savea was a handful in his debut cameo while Nathan Harris was in the right place at the right time when he bundled over for New Zealand’s fifth and final try after the siren.

The World Champions are once again proving that sometimes all the experience in the world can’t trump talent, as exuberance and a willingness to make a difference thwarted knowledge and know-how on the day.

Wales were unlucky not to have made a bigger dent in the first of a three-test series and will take some encouragement from their performance in the first 60 minutes, but when the dust settles and the analysis begins, the Dragons are faced with the same well-oiled machine of old; they just have different drivers this time around.

Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena

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