The Tight Five: What we’ve learned about the All Blacks

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James Mortimer     30 Aug 2014     Getty Images

Finally! The litmus (sort of)…

It might not have been a classical litmus test in the fact that the Wallabies eventually seemed to be shut out of the game for long periods and were unable to find much rhythm against the All Blacks onslaught, but it did provide the high water mark many have been seeking this year.

We now know that this team, circa 2014, can produce the sort of netherworld style rugby (at least from poetic standards) that probably hasn’t been glimpsed, perhaps with the exception of the third Test against England in June, since that victory in Ellis Park last year. Most pundits felt no team would have defeated the All Blacks while in such a mood.

It is the sort of rugby that delights fans, sends shivers down opposition team’s spines, and often forces numerous scribes to retract comments that this is an All Blacks team ripe for the taking, firmly in terminal decline.

If you are only as good as the best rugby you can produce, then the only worry for the coaching team at this point in time is making sure such performances are repeated consistently.

Ah Richie, will they ever learn?

Knocking All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has almost become a sport in itself, think the Chicago Bulls, Manchester United, Ferrari or the Klitschko brothers – exponents so successful that surely they must be bending the rules in some way to sustain their success.

In his 129th Test McCaw scored two tries (making him the leading try scorer in the tournament's history and 2014 campaign), while the skipper has made 29 tackles in his last two Tests, again, putting the flanker at the top of the charts.

At times, it seems to be almost embarrassing that coach Steve Hansen needs to defend a player who would walk away if his desire was flagging and wouldn’t be selected by a panel that cannot afford sentiment.

Did we mention that player is Richie McCaw? 

The real power is in what happened in his absence in Eden Park. With an ironclad contingency plan in place, as soon as McCaw walked off the field, Kieran Read was talking to the referee. And the player’s expressions were not one of “crap, we’ve lost our captain” but with a spine of experience and extreme trust in the system, a 14-man All Blacks went up another level.

Is this the best team in the world?

Before accusations of narcissism and bravado cometh, we’re not saying that the All Blacks are best team full stop no arguments.

It is more the fact that this All Blacks team has rid itself of any reliability on certain individuals. Of late during various stages of the recent campaign there has been no Tony Woodcock, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith or Jerome Kaino – representative of over 400 Test matches.

Even McCaw can apparently be replaced.

It is the overarching desire of most coaches, to set up a series of systems and processes that ensure that the motion of the machine is not altered with different moving parts.

The US Navy calls this redundancy.

We first saw it in 2011, Carter, Cruden, Slade and then Donald were slotted in without any major disruptions. The theme has continued this year even though this so called seamless environment will be examined with fresh blood likely at hooker in the coming weeks.

Wallabies 12-12 All Blacks

Are we witnessing a tactical transition?

The All Blacks kicked 23 times at Eden Park, the same number the team booted to the heavens in Sydney – which is down on the most recent average for New Zealand of 28 kicks per game.

For the record, the Wallabies kicked the ball eight times in general play in Auckland.

But it was the 572 metres that the World Champions ran in their most recent outing that was notable.

No side this year has generated this sort of running gain, while the frightening number was 4.5 – the metre average gain of every All Black compared to the 2.7 New Zealand ran on average at Australia’s biggest city.

All Blacks 51-20 Wallabies

The aura exists with improvement

There are always prevailing themes to All Blacks teams throughout the years – in 2011 it was about an all-court game that was difficult to analyse in a World Cup year, in 2012 with 50 tries with 14 Tests the preference was towards attack, while in 2013 kicking and defence were the vogue as New Zealand finished 12 of their 14 internationals with deficits in possession and most other statistics.

England and Australia have repeated the audio tracks of teams before them in saying that the All Blacks are not the team they used to be, that the aura and legend was not as prominent this year. Statements that oddly only in the long run add to the legend even if the New Zealand media at time seems to delight in putting their local side on their toes.

However as it was in the Steinlager Series against England, the All Blacks identified their errors and seemed to eradicate them, a sign that the team is achieving Steve Hansen’s goal of reaching a 10-15 percent improvement with each outing.

Find a chink in the All Blacks, and they have proved so far in 2014 they will shore up the defences in that area the following outing.