Andrew Gourdie: Make All Blacks vs Japan an annual fixture

Opinion 04/11/2018
Photo: Photosport.

By Andrew Gourdie, RadioLIVE sport host.

OPINION: Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Well, now we have it and I am struggling to find a single downside to the All Blacks match against Japan.

From the team's point of view, from New Zealand Rugby's point of view, from rugby's point of view, this game was a raging success.

The old brigade can go on about cheapening the jersey and giving away caps like popcorn, but in the modern game, this match was as close as we’re ever likely to get to the mid-week tour matches from a bygone era.  

The purpose of those matches was, in part, to give the 'B' team a crack in the black jersey and that’s what this was - a chance to test the depth in a test.

Of course, it sounds ridiculous to have 50-odd players on tour - a "necessity" according to Steve Hansen.

But really, this is a dream for a coach - a chance to expose a lot of new players to the All Blacks environment, to learn the systems and get a taste of international football.

This was masterclass in squad management. The first-choice squad beat the Wallabies, got a week off from playing and mixed with the new group, before heading on to Europe, feeling refreshed.

Then there's the group of players who took the field in Tokyo. What else would they have been doing at this time of year?

Probably starting a holiday. Instead, they helped pour a whole lot of much-needed cash into the coffers for New Zealand Rugby.

We got to see Dane Coles ranging wide again, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi get the start he deserved, Richie Mo’unga display the class we all know he has, Ngani Laumape send the selectors reaching for the Panadol to ease that midfield headache and George Bridge - well, what do you say about George Bridge?

Based on his debut in black, he won't be part of the dirt trackers for much longer.

That's what made this game perfect. If it had been the first-choice All Blacks against Japan, it would have been a bloodbath.

They would have been far too slick for the hosts and yet the 80 minutes would have done nothing to help prepare them for bigger, more important matches in the weeks ahead against England and Ireland.

The invitational-style All Blacks selection, with combinations still raw, helped to level the playing field. It gave Japan a chance they wouldn’t ordinarily have had and they took it.

They stunned the crowd with a charge-down try that gave them an early lead, and the home side well and truly played their part in an entertaining spectacle, scoring five tries in a 100-point encounter.

What an advertisement for the game in the nation that'll host next year's World Cup.

With all of this in mind, why not play this match every year? Opportunities for players, a chance to test depth, money in the bank and promotion of the game in a country that could soon be of great importance to SANZAAR and New Zealand Rugby.

Can anyone tell me why not? Again, I'm struggling to see a downside.

Andrew Gourdie is Newshub sports presenter and RadioLIVE Sunday Sport host.