The 'bit of a statement' that left Leon MacDonald proud in Dublin
Leon MacDonald was like the cat that got the Irish cream on Friday night as he purred his way through a brisk six-minute media debrief on a historic occasion for his All Blacks XV. The NZ second team has had numerous names over the decades. New Zealand A, New Zealand XV, Junior All Blacks. Now it was the turn of the All Blacks XV to shine as the first second-string team to take the field since the JABs took part in the 2009 Pacific Nations.
The assembly rocked despite its limited preparation time, leaving MacDonald hopeful that the swashbuckling seven-try performance caught the imagination of the NZR back in Wellington and will encourage them to believe that the All Blacks XV is a revived second team concept that is here to stay rather than get shunted back into cold storage for another lengthy period once next weekend’s London duel with the Barbarians is complete.
This fleeting Dublin visit wasn’t about gaining some sort of consolation revenge with a comprehensive 47-19 RDS win four months on from Ireland winning a Test series against the All Blacks. Instead, MacDonald insisted: “It was more important for us around the first opportunity of the All Blacks XV to play and we wanted to do that proud.
“We wanted to make a bit of a statement and say, ‘This team deserves to be here and we want it to be here for the long term and it has got really purpose and place in New Zealand rugby’. So we are really happy around how we did out there today.
“Lots to be happy with. Some of the tries we created, a lot of the defensive sets. For a team that has been together for seven days, I thought we just committed to working hard for each other and I thought we did the jersey really proud today.
“A lot of young guys who haven’t really played at this level stepped up and made a bit of a name for themselves and I thought some of the older guys that have been around for a little bit also the same, they played out of their skins and the performance would have shown this team, it means a little bit to them and that jersey means a bit for them so really proud of the effort.”
Why did it work so sweetly? “We kept things really simple, that was really important,” continued MacDonald, the Blues Super Rugby boss who was named in September as the All Blacks XV tour head coach. “With only a week to prepare it was really important that we didn’t clutter the players. We wanted to go out there and use their skill and play what was in front.
“I thought at times some of the passing and the confidence and the courage to take the ball to the width early on was great but we also mixed up some really good forward play, our maul defence was fantastic and we got up, competed and disrupted some of the Irish lineout as well.
“A lot of work was done this week. We had to fly a long way to come over here and there were a few weary bodies but the guys committed to doing the work on the training field which ultimately was worthwhile for us.”
Let’s be more specific then, what was the verdict on the old Test-level guard, the likes of Damian McKenzie and so on? “Absolutely, I thought he was brilliant today. I thought he directed play really well, I thought he kicked smartly and accurately, his goalkicking was fantastic but his want-to-attack suited our style in what we wanted to achieve. Brilliant.
“And TJ (Perenara) at nine, I thought his leadership throughout the week was immense. We didn’t get Pat (Tuipulotu) until later in the week so he stepped into that role as a bit of a team leader and I thought out there he kept driving the forwards, he kept the group together and made sure they were next-task focused – and he is a real competitor.
“When the young guys are looking around and seeing guys like Patrick and TJ and Damian who are more experienced at what they are doing, it just lifts them and they wanted to do the same. So really proud of our older group as well as our younger guys.”
You mean someone like 21-year-old blindside Dominic Gardiner? “What a performance, New Zealand 20s last year I think so he is just a young guy starting off really and that is the exciting thing about this team, the opportunity it presents for guys like Dom to come over here and actually challenge themselves against top teams in front of different crowds in a different part of the world.
“Dom played six right next to Pat, who has been around for a lot longer, and this experience for him is going to be massive. He has got a lot of potential and there are a lot of guys, such as Christian Lio-Willie who just came on the last 15 minutes, who have a huge amount of potential as well. Right across the board, I can’t think of a poor performance really.”
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