If the All Blacks clash with Georgia was meant to begin the process of resting the mind of Kiwi supporters in this Cup, nothing of the sort was achieved.
Captain Richie McCaw said post-match that there was no need to panic, but whether the New Zealand public listen will be a different story.
The Waisake Naholo try to open the game seemingly felt like the team had a different edge to it. But alas, within a matter of minutes, the fumbling All Black handling, which has marred a large part of the team’s offense through the early stages of this cup, appeared to have returned.
From hero to villain in a matter of phases, the outstanding Naholo effort was soon followed by a Georgian try. A try that was created from a Naholo error at the tackle area where he was unable to secure possession before being kicked forward off a stray Carter boot.
Julian Savea, for the most part, almost seemed like his old self, scoring two quick tries off great All Black fluidity at depth and then finished brilliantly by the Wellington winger.
But despite all the good passages and opportunities created by the All Blacks, handling errors riddled the flow of their attack and stopped them from finishing with points.
Daniel Carter, once the greatest player in the world, looked very much like a shadow of his former self. Lacking the once dynamic speed he had and causing him to drift sideways at times, much to the delight of the rushing Georgian defense. Carter missed conversions, and his kicking game was extremely poor at times, including a kick for touch that went dead in goal when three points was on offer.
Aaron Smith had probably his weakest game of the Cup, at times trying to rush the attack too much with penalty taps and aimless kicking behind the opposition line.
Both Jerome Kaino and Keiran Reid are lacking the force and skill that had them both as the top players in the world at one time, and both looked a little off the pace.
The midfield pairing of Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith had a tough day at the office, with not many opportunities, mostly in part to the fantastic defense of the Georgians.
Charlie Faumuina was strong at scrum time and carried the ball with vigor throughout the game, and Captain McCaw was again his solid self.
An area of concern for the coaches will surely be how they combat the rushing defense of teams. South Africa proved inept at dealing with it against Japan, and the All Blacks seemed to be missing options B and C at times today when confronted face-on.
The continued plan to play flat to get over the advantage line will need to start paying dividends shortly as long as the runners can hold on to the ball.
The Georgians, for their part, were excellent defensively and did not have many opportunities on attack. They played with heart and control, showing very few errors and at times even controlling set piece.
The continued fitness levels and ability to close out performances, particularly with once again excellent contributions off the bench, still sets this team apart from the rest moving into the knock-out stages. However, winning alone on that may not be the most comforting thought.
Moving forward into next week’s Tongan challenge, most will be looking for improved handling and better option taking at times by the collective playmakers with more cohesion as we attempt to follow Captain Fantastic’s proclamation not to panic.