Black­ad­der: Test­ing au­tumn has been a gift for All Blacks

The Rugby Paper - - News - By NEALE HAR­VEY

NEW Zea­land’s Novem­ber tribu­la­tions against Eng­land and Ire­land will only strengthen their bid to be­come three-time world cham­pi­ons, says Bath supremo Todd Black­ad­der.

Hav­ing been de­feated re­cently by South Africa and Ire­land and pushed to the limit by Eng­land be­fore pre­vail­ing 16-15 in con­tro­ver­sial cir­cum­stances at Twick­en­ham, Steve Hansen’s Ki­wis are widely viewed as be­ing on the wane ahead of next year’s World Cup in Ja­pan.

How­ever, for­mer New Zea­land flanker Black­ad­der dis­agrees with that as­sess­ment, telling The

Rugby Pa­per: “I ac­tu­ally think this is just the start and that the All Blacks have been given a real gift by be­ing tested so bloody hard dur­ing this Novem­ber se­ries.

“I know how they think and it will only make them bet­ter; they’ll look at them­selves, as they al­ways do, and they’ve got the most ex­pe­ri­enced coach­ing team in world rugby who are smart guys who will take a lot from these games and come back bet­ter pre­pared.

“I cer­tainly don’t buy into the the­ory that the All Blacks are done, their time is up or the coach­ing team don’t know what they’re do­ing. I think they’ll use the learn­ings of this au­tumn wisely and they’ll come back next year in far bet­ter shape for that World Cup.”

Af­ter be­ing de­nied a try by Ire­land and lim­ited to a sin­gle five-pointer against Eng­land, Black­ad­der,

be­low, ex­pects New Zea­land’s at­tack to be the ma­jor fo­cus go­ing into 2019.

He added: “Both Eng­land and Ire­land brought a lot of line-speed and de­fence is what won the game for Ire­land on the day, and might have done for Eng­land as well.

“When the All Blacks have lost it’s been on the back of a mas­sive de­fen­sive ef­fort by the op­po­si­tion, so they’ll look closely at their at­tack, how they can keep teams un­der pres­sure and look af­ter the ball bet­ter, be­cause they’ve had op­por­tu­ni­ties they didn’t take. “Sonny Bill Wil­liams’ place in the team will be one of the talk­ing points; there’ll be dis­cus­sions by the coaches around that and com­bi­na­tions mov­ing for­ward.” While he backs New Zea­land to re­spond by claim­ing a third suc­ces­sive world ti­tle, Black­ad­der ad­mits the gap be­tween his na­tion and the rest has re­duced sig­nif­i­cantly.

He said: “There’s not a lot of dif­fer­ence be­tween teams on the score­board now and, although there might be a dif­fer­ence in styles, when you looked at New Zea­land v Ire­land last week, in terms of in­ten­sity you’ll not get a bet­ter Test match any­where.

“Eng­land can also take heart from the fact that while they prob­a­bly haven’t got their best team avail­able at the mo­ment, they still pushed New Zea­land close and could well have won.

“Wales are look­ing very strong and Scot­land are im­prov­ing, so it should be a hell of a Six Na­tions and I’m look­ing for­ward to watch­ing that. But I still think where the All Blacks have the edge is they’re a lit­tle bit more con­sis­tent and that could tell in Ja­pan.”

Un­der fire: All Blacks’ Sonny Bill Wil­liams

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