August 21, 2014 Leave a comment
A familiar theme resonates within the All Blacks camp this week.
From the top down, they are on edge; frustrated with their failings in Sydney and seemingly primed to deliver the required response at Eden Park tomorrow night.
Almost immediately after the Sydney draw, individuals stood up and took responsibility for personal mistakes – it was a seriously sombre changing shed. They’ve since grumbled publicly about the need for atonement.
Ryan Crotty, who starts his first test in the midfield, professed yesterday he had never experienced the same sense of collective resolve.
Such repeated statements aren’t hollow threats. This team doesn’t do pre-match hype.
”Just about everything,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said bluntly of what he was unsatisfied with last week.
”Our skills and our game structures were basically non-existent to where we expect them to be.”
They won’t stew on it, but blowing the chance to secure the world record for test wins outright will have hurt. Expect to see that inner fury unleashed.
There’s no doubt the All Blacks will lift. Rarely, if ever, do they deliver back-to-back poor performances.
But the major question facing the Wallabies, after they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and one-man advantage for 20 minutes last week, is how much more improvement do they have?
For all the confidence gained from running the decidedly off-colour world’s best so close, there must also be nagging doubt they couldn’t finish the job.
”There’s definitely been a lift at training,” Hansen noted.
”Whether that transfers we’ll have to wait and see. I’m hoping so. I know we can improve. If we want to retain the Bledisloe Cup, we’ve got to go up about 10 or 12 notches and get into it. I don’t know how much they’ve got left to lift.
”They’re pretty satisfied with what they did last weekend so probably don’t have too many reasons to want to change. This week we’ve got to concentrate on us.”
An average refereeing display from South African Jaco Peyper, not adapting to the conditions, and the absence of basic skills all contributed to the All Blacks’ lacklustre efforts.
Peyper has since admitted errors – Wyatt Crockett’s yellow card and early scrum engagement penalties the notable clangers. But there’s no point poring over those factors now. That won’t change this outcome.
Much of the focus has centred on Crotty’s inclusion inside Conrad Smith and the potential lack of punch from a midfield combination missing Ma’a Nonu’s considerable bulk.
The Wallabies, though, will again field dual playmakers Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua in a backline not noted for its physicality.
”Obviously, they’re not the same experienced pair as Nonu and Smith but we’re very confident they’ll play well together,” Hansen said of Crotty and Smith.
”They’re both intelligent players with good ball skills and they’re both good defenders. They’re both good talkers and have experience as captains.
”There’s plenty of criticism that was warranted last week – there were certain areas of our game we were very poor at. We’ve got to be honest about that. It wasn’t just the punch in the backline it was right across the park.”
Up front, the All Blacks also have a point to prove.
There was virtually no sight of Kieran Read’s trademark offloads down the edges and for the final 50 minutes almost no flow or momentum to their attack.
”There’s no doubt about that,” Hansen said.
”The game is won in the tight-five. If you don’t do the job up front you don’t get punch in the backline.”