Rugby World Cup splutters into life
The excitement was there. The anticipation was there. Auckland was awash with the colours of every participating nation and the opening ceremony was impressive.
Yet the game that launched the 2011 Rugby World Cup had little, or no, competitive edge as New Zealand ran out 41-10 winners over Tonga.
The early offloading of New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams was a joy to behold; the flicks and tricks of a magician at work.
The finishing of Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui was impressive as well - though too often the Tongans seemed to wave them through to the try line. It took the Islanders a full 40 minutes to shake off the stage fright.
When they did, we saw the All Blacks flustered, hassled and penalised. The immortals were mortal after all, and Tonga had taken too long to realise it.
They remembered their famed ability for knocking opponents back in the tackle, they harried at the breakdown, and they worked and worked with their pick-and-drive.
The dividends followed: a try for replacement prop Alisona Taumalolo, a score to treasure. The tireless New Zealand flanker Jerome Kaino, and centre Ma'a Nonu touched down either side of the Tongan, but the All Blacks' cape of invincibility had
It had been torn from them in much the same way as Sonny Bill's shirt. The excited screams as the Kiwi revealed his honed torso to replace it, might have been the loudest of the night.
New Zealand were in fine form during the haka, but less impressive in the second half against Tonga. Photo: Getty
The shrieks told of a total lack of sporting tension around Eden Park but both teams deserve some credit.
In some respects, New Zealand were on a hiding to nothing. Only an immaculate 80 point hammering would've satisfied the critics. They came to play, and for the first half they were permanently menacing.
The forwards were dynamic, the back division dynamite. That they failed to close the game out with the same ruthless intensity will irritate and motivate them. They will be alarmed by the number of mistakes that crept into their game.
So the first of the contenders have revealed their hand. The New Zealanders' future
opponents will have taken careful notes.
Tonga were nowhere in the first half but their players are so unused to this rarefied stage that the way in which they froze at the start was entirely understandable.
More significant was the manner in which they responded. Their second half will show them the way for the rest of the tournament.
The question we need to ask is: why was this fixture chosen to open proceedings? It was always going to result in a comfortable win for the hosts. Perhaps that's the reason, right there.
But what about the need to set the pulses racing from the outset? Why not a firecracker opener like the one we saw between France and Argentina four years ago?
The tournament's organising committee had the chance to pit the All Blacks against France; a contest of guaranteed bite and drama. It would have provided the perfect launchpad for the competition.
Instead they bottled it, and in sharp contrast to the fizzing pre-match carnival in downtown Auckland, the World Cup of 2011 has merely spluttered into life.