The British rugby press say New Zealand ‘s unconvincing Hong Kong Bledisloe Cup win shows the All Blacks are beatable on the forthcoming Grand Slam tour – but the claims lacked real conviction.
All of the major newspapers claimed both the Wallabies and the All Blacks could be defeated by a northern union over the next month.
However, they admitted it would still take a mammoth performance to defeat the southern hemisphere heavyweights.
Former Wales No 8 Eddie Butler, writing in The Observer , typified the northern out-take on the All Blacks’ 19-14 victory at Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday night.
"There were signs of excellence; there were moments of frailty,"
Butler wrote. "There were aspects to worry Europe and elements to give the old continent grounds for optimism.
"Both will be better for this ground-breaking game under their belts; both look some way off unbeatable."
Butler said Wallaby playmaker Matt Giteau was the best individual performer and, in what might be a preview of UK-based criticism to come, noted "at the breakdown, Richie McCaw delayed release and the rest of the forwards attacked the situation with their utterly characteristic aggression".
Long-time New Zealand rugby critic Stephen Jones followed suit.
"There was nothing on show at the Hong Kong stadium yesterday to terrify the European teams that these two Bledisloe Cup giants will meet in the next month, although there was enough to show that any victory will be hard-won," Jones told his Sunday Times readers.
"Yet it was typical of New Zealand that they should sort themselves in the dressing-room. There was far more purpose and far less speculation about them after the break."
Jones said the All Blacks’ opponents will have noted the "lack of authority".
in the scrum after Andrew Hore’s injury-enforced departure and "the series of speculative passes which often cost them the ball".
"They will also note the fallibilities in defence of Sitiveni Sivivatu and Hosea Gear on the wing. They will note that Australians can still be attacked at scrum time, and that Australian self-belief is not what it once was."
Ex-England lock Paul Ackford, writing in the Sunday Telegraph , also concluded the All Blacks were rusty but was less emphatic than his colleagues about New Zealand and Australia being beaten over the next month.
"Vulnerable note, not beatable, because on this evidence it will require a performance of considerable courage and attention to detail to derail either side," he wrote.
Jones couldn’t resist a pop at some of the talent in Graham Henry’s squad which is missing at least 10 top players from last year.
"Henry’s loyal hints that the players he still has at his disposal are better than those scattered round Europe are ridiculous. So you wouldn’t pick Carl Hayman if you could, Graham?"
"As ever, the All Blacks will be about half as good as their followers think they are, though still hardly bad. The power and pride of their collective, the magnificence of their basic skills and ability to adapt to any circumstances cannot hide the fact that a large number of their individuals on this trip would not make a Guinness Premiership club roster.
"Take, say, Piri Weepu or Jimmy Cowan, the two All Black scrum-halves in Hong Kong yesterday? Hardly galacticos. We’ll get back to you, lads."
Ackford noted the failed experiment with Daniel Carter at second five-eighth.
"With New Zealand it’s all about Carter. Get him and you get the lot.
"Coach Graham Henry shunted Carter to inside centre for the first 50 minutes and New Zealand were awful. It was not that Carter was rubbish, it’s just that he has more control at outside half (first five)."