27 Aug 2018

Eden Park double header - crowds, tries and the PM

10:33 am on 27 August 2018

It's safe to say that it's probably not something she thought she'd be doing a year ago, but Jacinda Ardern handing over the Bledisloe Cup to Kieran Read did symbolise a new direction that rugby has taken in 2018 writes Jamie Wall.

New Zealand's captain Fiao'o Faamausili is presented the Laurie O'Reilly Cup by Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern during the Black Ferns vs Australia Women's rugby match at Eden Park.

New Zealand captain Fiao'o Faamausili is presented the Laurie O'Reilly Cup by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the Black Ferns vs Australia Women's rugby match at Eden Park. Photo: Photosport

Or at least is trialling. Just how many more double headers involving the men's and women's national teams will take place remains to be seen, because the debate around just how the latter's games are showcased remains as divisive as ever.

The All Blacks and Black Ferns played their second double header last night at Eden Park.

Both games were essentially more entertaining reruns of their victories last weekend in Sydney, and had the added bonus of having the Prime Minister on hand to present the silverware at the end of the games.

The onus really was on the Eden Park crowd to show up for the Black Ferns' game early, after the sight of the cavernous ANZ Stadium being virtually empty at kickoff last weekend.

It wasn't really that much better last night, with the evening sun setting on mostly grey seats as the first half came to a close.

Like last weekend though, by the second half the bums on seats had swollen to a more respectable number - just in time to see the Black Ferns start giving the ball a bit of air and scoring some great tries.

Pick of the bunch was Renee Wickliffe's spectacular diving finish in the corner, which wouldn't have looked out of place on David Fusitu'a's wing at Mt Smart.

No official crowd number was given to the media, unlike in Sydney where an eventual figure of over 28,000 was touted as being a world record for a women's match.

However, you didn't need an official count to see that the number in by the second half was substantially higher than any Blues home game at the back end of their season, and any figure the Mitre 10 Cup can pull.

Of course, there wasn't an empty seat when Owen Franks ran out onto Eden Park for his 100th test match.

He was followed by the rest of the All Blacks, with basically everyone in the crowd hoping that he'd finally break his try-scoring duck.

It wasn't to be. The closest Franks got to the try line with ball in hand was roughly 40 metres out, and in a nice touch of irony his propping partner Joe Moody managed to crash over to score in the second half.

Four of the 10 tries in the women's match were scored by front row forwards as well, so you get the feeling that Franks is probably actively avoiding getting a five-pointer given the fact that he never scores is what he's known for now.

Not that the All Blacks needed him to score, anyway. Beauden Barrett continued to make a mockery of all those who doubted his place as rightful owner of the All Black 10 jersey, scoring four tries almost 40 years to the day that Greg Cornelsen improbably got a quartet for the Wallabies on the same ground.

Barrett ended up with 30 points, which means he more than doubled the Wallabies' tally all by himself.

Both the men's and women's matches did follow a pretty similar script: the Australians tried hard in the first half, but were burned off by patches of brilliance and skill.

The Wallaroos were definitely better than they were in Sydney, but lost by the same margin. The Wallabies were more or less the same, and got the same treatment.

Maybe the best way to market the women's fixture would be to get a better calibre of opposition for a game like this at Eden Park.

The women's 15-a-side game in Australia is far behind the one we have here, so the result was never going to be in doubt. At least the men have a precedent of being able to bounce back.

In all, it was an interesting evening at Eden Park. No one was quite sure how the double header was going to work, and clearly there's a bit of work to be done around making sure people are buying in for both matches and not just the All Blacks.

Barrett shattered any doubts about his form, while Franks reinforced his reputation as a man who wants nothing to do with tries.

And Jacinda got her hands on the Bledisloe Cup, which is something eight Australian Prime Ministers can't claim they've done since 1986.

The rate both their rugby and politics are going, there'll probably be a few more in that club by this time next year.