Rugby union’s oft-heard saying that it is a sport for all shapes and sizes was never more on show than by New Zealand in their 62-13 World Cup thrashing of France.
Wingers Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea truly are the little and large of the All Blacks backline. Between them they notched up four tries in the comprehensive win on Saturday that sets up a semi-final for the defending champions against South Africa next weekend.
At a time when so much attention is being paid to the injury risk at the World Cup, Milner-Skudder stands all 90 kilos (198 lbs) of him as proof there is still room for the little guy.
At 1.82 metres (5 feet 11.5 inches) tall, he is dwarfed by hat-trick scoring man-of-the-match Savea (1.92 metres/106kg 6ft 3.5ins/233 pounds), built in the same mould of Jonah Lomu, whose appearance on the international scene 21 years ago changed the perception of rugby.
“Isn’t it wonderful for rugby that all shapes and sizes can play the game. He’s just reinforcing that,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said when opting for Milner-Skudder over another giant, Waisake Naholo, to partner Savea on the wing.
“You don’t have to be a big 110-120 kg winger as in (Wales wing George) North or Jules (Savea).
– Size matters? –
“He’s a little guy. He can turn on a sixpence and has got genuine gas so that’s good.”
Indeed Milner-Skudder showed both those attributes in crossing for New Zealand’s second try after 24 minutes, his fifth to draw level with South African Bryan Habana and Wales’ Gareth Davies.
Boxed in close to the touchline, the winger stepped inside a static Brice Dulin and showed a clean pair of heels past full-back Scott Spedding.
Savea’s two first-half tries were nothing short of sensational, but showcased more brute strength than twinkle-toed mastery.
The first was gifted by a superb backhanded offload by Dan Carter. The second saw the behemoth winger charge straight at opposite number Noa Nakaitaci, barging the Fiji-born Frenchman out the way before targeting Spedding and doling out the same treatment before touching down in the corner.
“I was eager to get to the try line, no matter what!” said Savea.
“Just being hungry to get there as fast as I can, no matter the obstacles. I just reacted to whatever I saw in front of me.”
Savea added: “This quarter-final, it’s a huge privilege and honour for me and my family just to be part of this team and this environment. I can’t say how special it is to me.
“I think everyone was on fire today, the whole team. I was really proud of the boys, from the first whistle to the last.”
One collision Savea had with Remi Tales early in the second-half even left Welsh referee Nigel Owens gasping: “Oh my gosh!”
Savea then turned provider for Jerome Kaino, clearing up Ma’a Nonu’s scrappy pass and managing to offload with great dexterity.
The winger crossed for his third try with a straightforward run-in after Carter spotted a gap after Dane Coles stripped Spedding of the ball on the halfway line.
New Zealand, with their forward power setting up a platform to show off their sublime offloading skills, bagged a total of nine tries and promise to be a formidable opponents for the Springboks next week.
“It’s always awesome to see the backs get the ball, especially with Jules (Savea) bumping people off to get across the try-line,” try-scoring lock Brode Retallick said, warning however that the game was not all about the wingers.
“It’s pretty good to watch. He’s a great player but if we want to keep progressing we need the whole team to play well.” – Agence France-Presse