Pu­mas show All Blacks

Sunday News - - ALL BLACKS V ARGENTINA - PHIL GIF­FORD

HON­ESTY call. Seven tests for the All Blacks this sea­son so far. Just two you’d call right up to scratch, and one walkover, against an un­der­pow­ered Samoan side.

Last night in New Plymouth the All Blacks were such red hot favourites they were at one cent on the dol­lar at the TAB for a win.

Play­ing the Pu­mas, whipped by 18 and 22 points by the Spring­boks so far in the rugby cham­pi­onship, the game in Taranaki shaped as more like a train­ing run for the All Blacks than a fully fledged test.

Oops. If the first test against the Wal­la­bies in Dunedin was a shock, the first 40 last night was straight out weird. The sec­ond spell was, of course, a huge im­prove­ment, but un­til half­time there were bizarre el­e­ments you don’t ex­pect to see in a team with the ter­rific tal­ents and track record the All Blacks have.

As, for ex­am­ple, Beau­den Bar­rett strug­gling to get the ball 10 me­tres from suc­ces­sive kick offs.

Or the ob­ses­sion with stab kicks through, that spread from Bar­rett to, of all peo­ple, Kieran Read. It worked like a charm for An­ton Lienert-Brown’s try in the 18th minute, but all the vast ma­jor­ity of the lit­tle kicks did was turn the ball over.

Or the num­ber of times the Pu­mas were able to dis­rupt the break­downs by the sim­ple process of ar­riv­ing in greater numbers, and with much greater in­ten­sity.

But the main worry now is that the All Blacks’ great ad­van­tage over ev­ery other team in the world from the time they marched to vic­tory in the 2011 world cup, an un­matched skill level, threat­ened to desert them.

Just why that is will be keep­ing the All Black coach­ing team awake at night. Be­cause while the Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der try that started the game was ex­e­cuted per­fectly, the Is­rael Dagg try was, to be blunt, ba­si­cally fluky, when a Bar­rett pass bounced up for Dagg.

In the past the All Blacks have not only been Rolls Royce smooth with pass­ing at­tacks but ac­cu­rate and dar­ing in the air.

Last night Damian McKen­zie was fear­less, but largely un­suc­cess­ful, and too long for com­fort the New Zealand pass­ing was laboured.

Full credit, chan­nelling Sean Fitz­patrick, to the All Blacks’ de­ter­mi­na­tion which brought them roar­ing back into the game, a pat­tern which has been a fea­ture for a decade now.

And for all the clenched teeth moments in the test for the All Blacks, there were some very bright spots too.

Mark down one as the al­most fairy­tale re­turn of Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der, who is al­most a throw­back to a past age when wings weren’t built like flankers, but re­lied on speed, shifty feet, and street smarts to make a mark. To meet Mil­ner-Skud­der

Damian McKen­zie scores in the sec­ond half against Ar­gentina.

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