Nathan Burdon on 2006’s first ABs match   13 Jun 2006

The first test of the All Black season is over and there was a fair bit of relief surrounding the win over the Irish in Hamilton.

A rout looked on the cards when Doug Howlett crossed in the corner to open the game, but the All Blacks trailed for much of the game before a try to the recalled Troy Flavell sealed victory for the home team.

Ireland has never beaten the All Blacks in a record that stretches back 101 years. They should have won in Hamilton and will be enormously frustrated at having let a golden opportunity slip.

There is no doubt the All Blacks will lift for the second test this weekend, but doubts do remain over coach Graham Henry’s plan to continue developing depth ahead of next year’s World Cup in France.

Many would prefer to see the strongest All Black lineup fielded in every test, with those behind them doing their best to unseat the starting players. But so far Henry hasn’t missed a trick and this experiment is still a work in progress.

The majority of the rugby public support the plan, even if they are uneasy with it, but that could change quickly if, or when, the All Blacks inevitably drop games between now and the World Cup.

Just how much Henry can retain the support of the public once that happens remains to be seen.

So far everything the All Black coach turns to gold.

The return of Flavell after two years in Japan was a gamble, but it paid off in

Hamilton. His try aside, the big utility was his typically imposing self when brought on in the second half.

This column was written before the naming of the second test team, but it wouldn’t surprise if Flavell starts on the blindside, or even at lock.

The big disappointment of the first test would have to be Ma’a Nonu, who continues to struggle when stepping up to international level.

True, the Wellington centre is one of the best linebreakers in the world, but he tends to go missing in games and rare moments of brilliance aren’t enough in the rarified atmosphere of the All Blacks.

Post-match analysis has it that the All Blacks were rusty, while the Irish were unlucky, but the late intrusion of a bikini-clad women onto the Waikato Stadium pitch has also created headlines.

The Waikato Rugby Union has asked the local council to institute a bylaw which would see streakers and the like fined heavily for their exploits.

Meanwhile, the woman’s bikini is being auctioned on Trade Me and at last count was up to $800. Go figure.

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