All Blacks hint at new tricks as World Cup looms on hori­zon

Sunday Star-Times - - ALL BLACKS V FRANCE -

That heavy breath­ing you might hear if you lis­ten closely to­day will be the sound of ev­ery video an­a­lyst in world rugby por­ing over last night’s test at Eden Park.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made it clear dur­ing the week that now was the time for the tac­ti­cal tweaks needed for next year’s World Cup to be­gin.

Start changes last year, and there would be too much time for ri­vals to work out counter moves. Leave mod­i­fi­ca­tions un­til next year and there might not be time for the All Blacks to ab­sorb them.

We know that the All Blacks can be pa­tient. The move called ‘‘Te­abag’’ that saw prop Tony Woodcock run through a mas­sive gap for the only All Blacks try in the 2011 fi­nal had been used the pre­vi­ous sea­son, then locked away un­til it was most needed.

The 2018 model All Blacks side knows that coun­ter­ing ri­vals’ de­fen­sive line speed is a must.

Al­most ev­ery in­ter­na­tional side’s tack­lers rush to the ad­van­tage line. The Cru­saders and the High­landers did it very suc­cess­fully against the Hur­ri­canes.

The French be­ing the French have a vari­a­tion dubbed ‘‘Fool’s Gold’’, which sees the wings lurk­ing back a lit­tle. It looks as if there’s space on the out­side, but then the French backs drift and, when ev­ery­thing clicks, sud­denly at­tack­ing play­ers are be­ing shuf­fled to­wards the side­line.

Last night the All Blacks didn’t show too many cards un­til it was time to rip the French to shreds. This was a weird test in many respects. The score­board ba­si­cally told lies for the first 50 min­utes. In al­most ev­ery as­pect the All Blacks were bet­ter, but a fluke try and ex­cel­lent goal-kick­ing by French cap­tain Mor­gan Parra rolled out points the ring-rusty All Blacks, un­til things clicked 10min into the sec­ond half.

Ear­lier it was a feast of the bizarre. Ben Smith, cool-headed? Fa­mous for it. Early in the game he flicked up a no-look ball into the wel­com­ing arms of wing Remi Grosso, who raced 40 me­tres for a try.

Ryan Crotty, cool-headed? Fa­mous for it. In the first half he had split the de­fence and found him­self with three men on his left and one on his right. He passed to the right.

English ref­eree Luke Pearce said to Aaron Smith, ‘‘you’ll have to wait,’’ be­cause he couldn’t keep up with him when Smith was dash­ing for a quick tap just be­fore half­time. Tele­vi­sion match of­fi­cial Ge­orge Ay­oub, whose de­ci­sions so of­ten come from what feels like an Aussie Twi­light Zone, ruled out a try to An­ton Lienert-Brown be­cause he de­cided Aaron Smith was ob­struct­ing Parra as Crotty made the ini­tial break. It was prob­a­bly the right de­ci­sion, though on other nights could eas­ily have been called a try.

What we did see were signs there may be a lot more kick­ing from Beau­den Bar­rett to turn de­fend­ers and get the All Blacks rolling for­ward onto the ball.

Many of the at­tacks from the All Blacks were di­rected through the mid­field, which is not new but, as well as Luke White­lock and Scott Bar­rett played, and White­lock, in par­tic­u­lar, was out­stand­ing, the pre­ci­sion might have ar­rived a lit­tle ear­lier if Kieran Read and Brodie Re­tal­lick had been in the pack. Once the cogs aligned, the ma­chine that is the All Blacks in full flight was fast, slick, and mer­ci­lessly ef­fi­cient.

To be fair, the li­ne­outs, dom­i­nated by Sam White­lock, were im­pec­ca­ble and there’s never been a bet­ter first scrum in an All Blacks jer­sey than the demolition job Karl Tu’inukuafe pro­vided when he re­placed Joe Moody.

The nay-say­ers about the French will have their say about the sec­ond-half sur­ren­der, but I was in Cardiff when it was sug­gested the way the 2015 All Blacks de­mol­ished France was be­cause France were so bad, not that the All Blacks were very good. The neg­a­tive talk was wrong then. It’s wrong now.

GETTY IMAGES

Beau­den Bar­rett dives over for his first-half try.

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