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The Crusaders' win a disaster for the prematurely picked All Blacks

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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And there I was thinking Super Rugby Pacific had finished weeks ago.

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I can see where I was led astray.

Yes, barely a day seemed to go by without someone telling us the Blues were unbeatable and their coach Leon MacDonald a near genius.

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The Breakdown | Episode 19
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The Breakdown | Episode 19

It brought to mind the old Eddie Jones line about fans with typewriters.

Never mind. Super Rugby was far from finished and the right team ended up winning.

But while the Crusaders’ 21-7 victory in Saturday’s final was a triumph for them, it looked a bit of a disaster for the All Blacks.

A week’s always been a long time in politics, but it’s a long time in footy too. And on the strength of Saturday’s decider at Eden Park, it’s a shame the All Blacks were picked so prematurely.

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The Crusaders, as they have so often in their storied history, produced a test match-quality performance and, on the strength of that, more than a few Blues appear well short of test status.

I’ll cut almost all of them a break.

I don’t regard Rieko Ioane as a test centre, nor his brother Akira a test blindside flanker. I’d have Rieko on the wing and Akira nowhere near the squad at all.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is so far below David Havili’s class as a second five-eighth it’s not funny, but then we knew that already. Tuivasa-Sheck is good on his feet, but there’s no other strings to the bow.

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Dalton Papalii was coming back from appendicitis, so he has an excuse for Saturday. Sadly, Ofa Tuungafasi and France-bound Karl Tu’inukuafe can’t say the same.

I’m on the record as not rating Stephen Perofeta and am pretty lukewarm about Hoskins Sotutu as well.

But these guys didn’t pick themselves in the All Blacks. They merely confirmed how big the gulf is between franchise and test football.

I was actually most disappointed by Beauden Barrett.

Now the Blues’ lineout was bad on Saturday. The scrum too, at least in the final 20 minutes.

But Barrett’s seen that movie before.

He’s been in innumerable finals games for the Hurricanes in which the Crusaders decimated their set piece, to levels even worse than what the Blues endured at Eden Park.

And what’s he learnt from it? Not a lot, judging by Saturday’s evidence.

I try not to be a fan of players, but I am prepared to say that I think Barrett is a good footballer and that I wish him well.

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I’ve also argued on this website that he should have a mortgage on New Zealand’s No.10 jersey and be given full licence to try and lead the team to victory at the next World Cup.

I thought he was tactically inept in the final. Shuffled the ball too sideways, kicked too shallow and never allowed the Blues to gain decent field position or exert any pressure.

It was like he’d never played behind a slightly beaten pack before or encountered any defensive line speed.

All of which is a worry for the All Blacks, who’ve picked all sorts of athletes and occasionally explosive performers in their 36-man squad to meet Ireland, but perhaps too few grafters of the Tom Christie and Cullen Grace variety.

I’m not sure Christie will ever be an All Black and am well aware others regard Grace as lucky to have been one a couple of seasons ago. But if the All Blacks were named this Monday, instead of last, the national selectors would have a hard time justifying their exclusion.

New Zealand possesses any number of players who are outstanding on their best day. Who are dominant against bad teams and when they’re on the front foot and the pitch is dry and there’s not a lot of pressure or intensity.

But test rugby’s not like that. It’s not touch footy, there’s not acres of space and plenty of time.

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It’s hard and it’s frustrating and chances can often be few. It’s about accuracy and attitude, rather than athleticism.

The Crusaders’ win won’t be lost on Ireland, nor any of our international foes. That was the established blueprint for beating the All Blacks right there.

The crazy thing now is we’re going to take half that Blues side, whack them in the All Blacks and expect a different outcome.

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