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All Blacks still the standard bearers.

Byline: with Roger Uttley

WHILE the northern hemisphere season is just underway, the southern equivalent is going full bore.

Originally known as the Tri-Nations between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, now rebranded as the 'Rugby Championship' to incorporate Argentina, the standard has been superb to watch.

The All Blacks ultimately were comfortable winners over the Pumas in Waikato last Saturday.

It was an excellent game (despite the wet conditions) in which Argentina played a full part. They were even ahead early on, although once again it is New Zealand who are setting the benchmark in world rugby.

The All Blacks' next date against the Springboks, the other outstanding team, should be a cracker. The manner in which they offloaded and brought speed into the game was fantastic, with people taking flat passes at pace.

They are absolute masters at doing the basics well and have great strength in depth, as shown when they lost a flanker of the calibre of Liam Messam and were able to replace him with Steven Lutatua.

He showed fine pace, had super hands for a big bloke and took the ball well in the line-out.

He was almost an extra back, really.

If you can get someone like that into your team you are in a very strong position, and those are the levels to which England are aspiring.

CAPTION(S):

Liam Messam of the All Blacks
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Title Annotation:Sport; Opinion, Columns
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Sep 12, 2013
Words:233
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