The Tight Five - what we learned about the All Blacks
James Mortimer 08 Oct 2013 Getty Images
It is a pretty simple sentence. Travel across three time zones, arrive at a venue where the All Blacks have their worst record, encounter a fired up and quality Springboks side – and play 60 minutes of the contest a man down. Richie McCaw led the sixth most experienced All Blacks starting XV in history, and despite two blistering Bryan Habana tries, the World Champions did the business scoring five tries and finishing the tournament unbeaten.
Ellis Park was always going to be the ultimate Test, and if the Springboks and Wallabies are the All Blacks toughest foes, then recent results enhance claims to global superiority. New Zealand hasn’t lost to Australia in six internationals, and have lost just once to South Africa in nine Tests.
The intangibles set the champions apart
More than once head coach Steve Hansen has said a telling and somewhat ominous remark, saying that if his troops prepared and focused correctly leading into a Test match; they would be very difficult to beat. Leading on to a recent truism that ‘the only team that can beat the All Blacks is the All Blacks themselves’, there can be little doubt that the coaching team seems to have a pretty efficient formula for preparing the troops.
A massive focus on mental skills and fortitude, a step away from the bodybuilding craze and focusing on the rugby culture (you don’t lift weights on a rugby field some might suggest…), but more importantly a no fuss attitude that doesn’t allow anything to unsettle this team.
Not many sides throughout history can play with the precision of these All Blacks, but it is the fact that even when things don’t go their way, be it from an individual or team error through to a surge by the opposition – this group of players seems to be able to take anything thrown at them.
It isn’t about attack or defence, it is about the transition
By raw numbers the Springboks are the best attacking side this year, and while the All Blacks are the misers on defence (letting in just 11 tries in 9 Tests), it is the way the champions switch in key moments that sets them apart.
No team in world rugby can so faultlessly transition from being organised on defence to shifting the ball and sweeping wide on attack. This ability to change mindsets and sniff blood has the All Blacks sitting dominant as the apex predators of rugby, and here the side is sticking true to a piece of advice that applies to us all.
See the opportunity and take it, at Test level (or life!) the margins are so fine that the side that can pounce when the moment presents itself will often come out on top.
How many World XV players do the All Blacks boast now?
It is a relatively safe gamble to suggest that Conrad Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock and Tony Woodcock would be walk-ins to most global selections at any time, but how many extra All Blacks would now make that list based on current form.
Top of the ledger are two more Smiths, with Aaron and Ben having stellar campaigns. Halfback Smith was all over Will Genia early in the tournament, and faced up against the maestro Fourie du Preez was able to comprehensively outpoint the star Springbok with his whippet passing game and growing boot. As for the All Blacks try scoring wingman Ben, it would be an insult to suggest he isn’t perhaps the best three quarter in the game – with some inclined to note he might be a strong nomination for the IRB World Player of the Year.
Beauden Barrett, if one was to measure the number tens in the world minute-to-minute, could be a leftfield selection, while the likes of Israel Dagg, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore and Ma’a Nonu had strong tournaments; even if at the end the dreadlocked centre may have conceded to the brilliance of Springboks captain Jean de Villiers.
New Zealand fortress won’t want to be breached now
Next up for the All Blacks are the Wallabies in Dunedin, before taking on Japan, France, England and Ireland. While the All Blacks have the Bledisloe Cup locked away, their final home game isn’t banana skin material – the side is too good for that – but Australia will be more dangerous with their big Rosario win and more time working on the grand plan under coach Ewen McKenzie.
A few things are for certain, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith are unlikely to play, while the All Blacks won’t reassemble until Tuesday next week to prepare for the Forsyth Barr Test match. With the Japan international flagged as an opportunity to blood new players, don’t expect the World Champions to do the Wallabies any favours any roll out anything less than a near full strength side – a brilliant season would lose a fair amount of shine if they conceded a four year unbeaten run at home.
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