'Maverick ability, mental strength' give All Blacks edge

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    23 Nov 2017     Getty Images

Guscott said in The Rugby Paper that New Zealand were like a snake that sheds its skin.


"New Zealand seem to be in perpetual regeneration where the next layer is brand new perfect. They are unrelenting and every All Blacks plays without fear, with such joy in expression that shows off their high intensity, competitive nature. This despite their places always being under threat.

"It's a remarkable mindset.

"Especially when you consider that they must contend with every team upping their game by 20 percent when they face them," he said.

While the last 12 months had shown the All Blacks were beatable, it would be exciting to see if they could explode into an even better side in 2018 and how England dealt with Australia becoming a force again.

England were not quite at the heights they reached last season under Eddie Jones and he needed new players to accelerate their development in the next few months, Guscott said.

Jones had worked on getting England's fitness levels higher and that appeared to be rewarded with their strong finish against Australia but they were still lacking harder, more aggressive runners.

"This is another huge area that sets New Zealand apart as they are all comfortable on the ball from one to 15.

"The new Kiwi partnerships have matured over the past 12 months and any possible areas of weakness, such as the midfield, now look world class with Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams filling the Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith axis.

"While Jones has tried out one or two new players, New Zealand seem to keep finding them on a regular basis," Guscott said.

While Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Brodie Retallick and Ben Smith hadn't toured their replacements were learning plenty on the northern tour.
"New All Blacks always seem to adapt to Test rugby faster than most other nations because they are training and playing alongside the best every time. So as a team they are always improving at a faster rate than their rivals," he said.

The All Blacks may have lost two Tests in a year but because there were lessons in defeat that would serve the All Blacks well.

"They have a number of players who mix two things that usually don't go together – maverick ability and mental strength.

"They have at least five I would say – Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick, Ben Smith – who are the real commanders in chief who are arguably the best in the world in their positions and have that leadership ability to drive the team forward while also having the skills to do the extraordinary," he said.

Guscott added that Williams, Sam Cane, Sam Whitelock and Crotty weren't far behind in the leadership stakes while they had the maverick talents of Dane Coles, Rieko Ioane and Nehe Milner-Skudder and the look of X-factor about Vaea Fifita.

"They have a combination of brilliant world class players at the top of their game and such massive talent coming through they will never stop improving. There's never any drop off…

"Not many sides could lose over 500 caps in one hit as New Zealand did in 2015 and stay at the same standard. But the big names have been replaced so well that one of the new batch, Beauden Barrett, is already recognised as the best player in the world," he said.