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Room for improvement: How ABs overcame 'shaky' start

Patrick McKendry,
Publish Date
Sunday, 22 September 2019, 4:09PM
Beauden Barrett. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)
Beauden Barrett. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

Beauden Barrett, fresh from catching an accidental boot from Springboks No 8 Duane Vermeulen in the nose and helping lead his team to an at times exhilarating victory to get his side's World Cup defence under way, believes the All Blacks have plenty more room for improvement yet.

That goes for his increasingly promising partnership with first-five Richie Mo'unga, too. The pair pulled the strings superbly at Yokohama Stadium during the 23-13 victory in front of a supportive crowd and it's worth remembering that the first time they played together was during the 16-16 draw in Wellington four tests ago.

They varied the All Blacks attack with composure and creativity – there was possibly a little too much of the latter initially – and now the whole world knows that stopping this team from winning three World Cups in a row will take some serious work and probably a bit of luck.

"It's only going to get better," Barrett, who looked fresh despite a torrid 80 minutes against the old foe, said of his partnership with Mo'unga. "I love playing with Rich, he's a super talent and hopefully for this team we can figure out how we get the best out of other and do what's best for this team.

"We've got a lot more potential in us. It's exciting."

The pair and their teammates expected a rush defence from the Boks and weren't disappointed. What they had this time was a strategy to break it down; in fact they had several and it involved an intelligent and well-executed kicking game with two in-form wings in George Bridge and Sevu Reece capable of making the most of nearly every opportunity.

Bridge's try, with Barrett a key man in the build-up, allowed the All Blacks to finally respond to the pressure the Boks put them under in the opening quarter. The left wing also led his side's kick-chase threat. Reece, meanwhile, was a little jack-in-the-box on the right.

"It's great to see him being so confident," Barrett said of Reece. "If it's a 50-50 for himself he'll call for it which is great. We can feed off that confidence; a new young exciting player. Obviously he's exciting when he gets the ball in hand and he showed moments of brilliance today. He's played a huge season with the Crusaders and is the reason why they had a good season again. Hopefully we can get him some more ball."

The All Blacks' vastly improved kicking game also owed much to the input from halfbacks Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara. Kicking from the back of the ruck hasn't always been a strength of this pair but it clicked at last to the extend they even overshadowed Faf de Klerk, the little halfback who put them under so much pressure at the Cake Tin recently.

"It's not something we've used too much this year but we understand the importance of kicking from No 9 at times," Barrett said. "You see it a lot from all the top teams in the world. When it comes down to tense games, rush defences and big forward packs who like to go from set piece to set piece and keep it slow, sometimes it's easy to say 'here you go, deal with this high ball and see how you want to start your attack again'. I don't know if they expected that so much from us, but it's great that we have it up our sleeve too."

Barrett is now looking forward to a 10-day break before the All Blacks' next game against Canada in Oita, in the southern island of Kyushu.

He described the All Blacks' start as "shaky", but at the end of the half the Boks appeared nearly out on their feet. It bodes well for the All Blacks; for the 19 other nations here, perhaps not so much.


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