The Tight Five - What we learned after the All Blacks made it a perfect ten
James Mortimer 20 Oct 2013 Getty Images
The All Blacks are number one
The Wallabies played a brilliant game, with obvious improvements and subtle tactical adjustments, but once again the All Blacks were able to absorb everything thrown at them, a leading trait of their play this season. The World Champions play with a style that suggests a preparation that focuses almost selfishly on their own purpose, for they are happy to run their multiple plans as much as sitting back and waiting for the chance to defensively close out a match with a turnover sniffing attitude.
They aren’t invulnerable; the highest score achieved by an Australian Test team in New Zealand backed this up. But this gives the coaching team plenty of areas to demand improvement, despite that feeling that the All Blacks were never going to lose this once the contest progressed. In 24 matches since beating France in the Rugby World Cup Final only once has a team defeated this side – while the Dunedin win upped the All Blacks winning percentage since 1903 to an even 76.
Cane is clearly able
Sam Cane led key ledgers in this contest but the most notable aspect was how he looked at peace amidst the ferocity of the breakdown, a trait reminisce of another flanker many years ago before a long career forced numerous style changes. Tackling and ball carrying were tasks accepted with relish by the 21-year-old, while he is clearly happy to throw his youthful frame into collisions with little regard for personal safety.
His task was as immense as any All Black in history, replace a player who is mentioned casually alongside Sir Colin Meads as one of the greatest ever, yet despite mixed reviews he is beginning to wear the famous seven jersey with some comfort. Purists might argue that Cane doesn’t have the polish that McCaw has garnered over 120 Tests, but he isn’t out of place – the coaches wouldn’t select him otherwise – and he is clearly repaying their faith.
The visual spectacle won’t always benefit the champions the number 60 declares
Despite two clearly enjoyable Tests which have seen a feast of tries, 16 scored in the last brace of matches the All Blacks have played, not since 2008 have New Zealand conceded more points in back-to-back games. There is no doubt that this is a championship winning team with all of the answers, but European sides will note that Steve Hansen’s troops haven’t played a tight match in some time now.
There is an old saying by many All Blacks teams that no matter how many points you might score, we will back ourselves to score more, but when defensive meetings are held in the coming weeks this might be a topic broached. A side that sets standards like the world’s number one team will not reflect kindly on conceding seven tries in two Tests.
Nonu is a crucial part of the All Blacks puzzle, as is the team dynamic
Ben Smith finished The Investec Rugby Championship with a record eight tries, further furnishing his reputation as one of the game’s best attackers, but despite a scything run or two, defensively the Highlanders back had a fair amount of support from the most experienced second five-eighth in All Blacks history.
Nonu has a talismanic quality on defence that sees him prominent in crucial plays, and Conrad Smith’s defensive smarts were not obviously missed with how the dreadlocked menace stood tall on the turf of the countries only enclosed stadium. But it was clear that once again the 2013 hybrid of the All Blacks have a special ability to change personal without obvious drops in performance, and Ben will only be better for his second Test centre’s appearance thanks to the eyecatching performance of the Wallabies midfield.
Two (of three) achievements could define this All Blacks side
Completing their fourth consecutive unbeaten home season has given these All Blacks 30 straight Test wins, matching the side that from 2003 to 2008 were unable to be defeated in New Zealand. Their first Test of 2014 will give Steve Hansen the chance to break the world record for the most impressive home streak in international rugby.
Add to this the chance to complete the calendar year unbeaten, gives the team another chance to enter the books, but this task will be difficult, as no-one as ever achieved it before. But halfway through a World Cup reign the champions are looking good if the tournament was to be held tomorrow, and while there is a long time till England, the team looks to be in a healthy position - as they look for achievement number three, being the first nation to defend a global crown.
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