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It was supposed to be the second stringers’ chance to shine, but the All Blacks’ 58-14 win over Namibia mainly confirmed that the top team played Argentina in the opening match.

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That’s not to say no-one played well, but aside from man-of-the-match wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, the All Blacks were individually and collectively off their game.

It was always going to be a tricky assignment trying to live up to predictions they would run up a cricket score and perhaps the All Blacks tried a little too hard in that regard.

All Blacks fullback Ben Smith runs in for a try late in the second half of the Rugby World Cup pool match against Namibia.
Paul Gilham/ Getty Images
All Blacks fullback Ben Smith runs in for a try late in the second half of the Rugby World Cup pool match against Namibia.

Coach Steve Hansen had urged them to treat the fixture like a knockout match, but after a structured start that included a 30-metre rolling maul, impatience quickly crept in.

The main issue was a lack of phase ball. The All Blacks seemed as though they wanted to score from first phase rather than use midfielders Sonny Bill Williams and Malakai Fekitoa, or No 8 Victor Vito to set a target.

They went wide too early and found Namibia’s backs did not simply stand aside.

There won’t be any alarm bells in the All Blacks camp with the match providing much needed game time against a Namibian side that continued the tournament trend of waving the flag courageously for the minnows.

Most sides would be happy with nine tries, but Hansen will be frustrated his players were not more direct with ball in hand.

Williams showed early that the quickest way was straight ahead when he crashed through his marker, drew two more defenders and off loaded to Fekitoa.

At that stage it was 22-6 after early tries to Vito and Milner-Skudder. The rout was on only for mistakes to creep in.

TJ Perenara seemed reluctant to run and had a mix up with Julian Savea at the base of a ruck, Colin Slade put in an aimless crossfield kick and Sam Whitelock threw a horrible pass at Fekitoa’s feet.

Beauden Barrett again produced moments of class.

On the 25-minute mark he shot himself out of a cannon on a 30-metre run that left the Olympic Stadium momentarily silent.

It was one of those “what just happened” moments that Barrett has a habit of producing.

What was remarkable was the simplicity. Barrett hit Perenara’s flat pass from a lineout, dummied and accelerated, leaving Jacques Burger grasping at thin air, then piercing the covering wing and fullback.

His clearance kicks were straight and long, his restarts on the mark, but his flirtation with fullback was oddly short after swapping positions with Slade at halftime, the latter subbed after 51 minutes.

Barrett’s goal kicking was again a concern, just five out of nine successes, but his x-factor, like Milner-Skudder’s is hard to ignore.

Those two, along with Williams and lock Luke Romano, were possibly the only All Blacks to really give the selectors pause for thought early in the tournament.

– Stuff

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