Ma­jes­tic All Blacks bask af­ter an­nus mirabilis

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Even the most cyn­i­cal of ob­server would have bet on a chink ap­pear­ing in the ar­mour af­ter New Zealand lost the likes of tal­is­manic cap­tain Richie McCaw and goal­kick­ing play­maker par ex­cel­lence Dan Carter. No such luck as Beau­den Barrett stepped into Carter’s shoes in a blink and McCaw’s ab­sence was mit­i­gated by the pres­ence of Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino, with a num­ber of younger for­wards quickly blood­ied around the vet­eran back­row­ers.

Af­ter win­ning a sec­ond suc­ces­sive World Cup in Oc­to­ber last year, the All Blacks em­barked on a win­ning run of 18 matches, a streak bro­ken when they went down 4029 to Ire­land in Chicago ear­lier this month.

It proved to be their sole loss in the cal­en­dar year. Thir­teen vic­to­ries were notched up in to­tal, and the Rugby Cham­pi­onship ti­tle claimed with two rounds to play.

The fi­nal win of the year came on Satur­day, a 24-19 vic­tory over a feisty France team that threw ev­ery­thing at New Zealand with­out re­ally ever threat­en­ing to come close to an up­set. But a marked im­prove­ment from the 62-13 World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal maul­ing the Tri­col­ors re­ceived last year. “It was a great Test match and both teams con­trib­uted to the crowd en­joy­ing it. It felt like the old French rugby team. They wanted to run the ball at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity,” said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. “They should be very happy with the progress they’re mak­ing, but at the same time I’m also very happy with our own team. “We lost over 800 caps and some real leg­ends of the game af­ter the Rugby World Cup. “To come out and do what we’ve done this year, lose just the one match, play some good rugby at times, to stand up un­der pres­sure late in the sea­son when fa­tigue is a big fac­tor, I’m very proud of our team. “This time of year is a tough time - we went around the world twice in nine weeks, nine time changes in seven games, so the boys did well.”

While the All Blacks go on a wellde­served hol­i­day, Hansen had a warn­ing for po­ten­tial ri­vals. “We’re a young group. There are 20 play­ers who weren’t at last year’s World Cup. There are 11 new All Blacks and not too many of them have played against north­ern hemi­sphere teams,” he said.

ALL BLACK WARN­ING

“Ev­ery op­por­tu­nity we’ve had we’ve used the young guys and tried to build them. “We’ll go away and en­joy the break and come back a bet­ter team for these four weeks.” France coach Guy Noves said it was now the mo­ment to di­gest what the Novem­ber games had thrown up (a 52-8 win over Samoa fol­lowed by a 25-23 loss to Aus­tralia and then the de­feat by New Zealand) be­fore tack­ling prepa­ra­tions for the Six Na­tions.

“We lost twice by small mar­gins and we cre­ated lots of chances for our­selves, we crossed the field sev­eral times with move­ments which I like,” said the for­mer Toulouse coach, prais­ing his team for up­ping the phys­i­cal con­test.

“The New Zealan­ders were su­pe­rior to us but I don’t think they had too much of a laugh!” Noves added: “It’s ob­vi­ous we can’t wait to win, as soon as pos­si­ble. Our next match is in Eng­land (in the Six Na­tions).

“We’ll have played the best three na­tions in the world in three matches. If the re­sult doesn’t please us, I feel nev­er­the­less that a team is in the process of be­ing hatched be­cause it’s only a few months that we’ve been work­ing to­gether.

“But it’s a team which be­lieves in it­self, which em­ploys game­plans that suit me even if some were naive against New Zealand. “We’re dis­ap­pointed to have lost but we’ve just played two of the big­gest na­tions in the world. And our young­sters were not only a match for them but put them in dif­fi­culty. “There’ll be sun­nier days than tonight.”

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