Comment: Why All Blacks victory should be treated with caution

Author
Gregor Paul, NZ Herald,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Sunday, 25 November 2018, 9:50AM
Beauden Barrett and Anton Lienert-Brown celebrate. Photo / AP
Beauden Barrett and Anton Lienert-Brown celebrate. Photo / AP

Italy are clearly not giants of world rugby and therefore the All Blacks' crushing victory in Rome has to be treated with some caution.

A big win against a side that holds a Tier One status it scarcely deserves is not reason to shout from the rooftops that the All Blacks are back in rugby paradise with a restored aura of infallibility.

It is reason, though, to see they are making their way towards being a better and less predictable attacking force and the fug of gloom that hung heavy after Dublin, should have lifted somewhat.

Afforded more time and space, the All Blacks found their flow and rhythm. But, more importantly, they mixed up their repertoire of structured plays and seemed to be more in tune with one another.

There are tougher challenges ahead where the All Blacks won't be given the same freedom to work the ball, but the 80 minutes in Rome could be deemed valuable when the historians come to look back in 12 months for significant change points.

This game may not end up ranking as massively significant, but it was important for the All Blacks to sign off in 2018 with something reassuring if not quite emphatic.

It was important for the players to give a performance that provided definitive proof there is progress being made in the tactical evolution and the drive to build the All Blacks as less predictable.

Important for them to see they can piece it all together – they can make the right decisions about where to move the ball and they can be deadly if they build early momentum and then play what they see.

It wasn't an outstanding effort in Rome, but it was mostly good. It was mostly coherent and mostly accurate and because of that, there will be a little bit of confidence brewed.

Confidence is an important quality to have and combined with a little residual disappointment held over from Dublin, the All Blacks have a powerful concoction of emotions with which to work over the summer.

"It was better," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen of the 66-3 victory. "Obviously it was different opposition. They [All Blacks players] have had a big week after last week's disappointment. They came back and played well.

"No game is the same regardless of the opposition when you do your analysis of the game the cues and the core roles you are after whether it is in their scrummaging or lineout work, back play and open field play and you look at how they did it."

In that regard Hansen can be relatively pleased that a number of fringe candidates did precisely what was asked of them. Jordie Barrett delivered a much-improved performance on the wing that suggests he can make that position work.

Dane Coles was creeping back to something like his old self and showed he's still got that rare ability to beat defenders in the wider channels.

Patrick Tuipulotu carried with some ferocity and destruction but his handling remains an area of concern.

The star of the show was perhaps Vaea Fifita, though, who pitched in with an aggressive and abrasive performance at blindside.

"I thought it was a pretty complete performance," said Hansen. "He is a well-known ball carrier but his defence was good on set piece and he came off the line really well. He had a real physical presence throughout the game."

All of which left Hansen reasonably chipper about where he sees his team at the moment.

"It has been a great tour for us," he said. "People might think it is a weird comment when we have lost one game. But there were plenty of gifts. England in the rain - they couldn't have got better conditions to play that game. We came back from 15-0 down and we showed a lot of calmness.

"We went to Ireland had a real arm wrestle and came out the wrong side of that. But we created enough opportunities but we didn't take them so the lessons to make sure we take them in the future.

"It is always good to go to the table hungry. You can eat more when you are hungry rather than when you are full. You don't win the World Cup unless you are hungry."

 

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