New Zealand enjoyed a largely successful November tour. Unbeaten throughout the tour and
with some impressive performances, the All Blacks will be happy with their work. There were a
couple of speed bumps along the way but the All Blacks dealt with the challenges in typical
fashion. Here are some thoughts on their journey through the North:
Good: The scrum is no longer a concern
It has been a while since we have seen the All Blacks scrum so dominant. In recent memory, while the scrum was good, you weren’t always as sure of the outcome when the ball was rolled in. This year especially though, the scrum has been much improved.
Though Kane Hames admittedly struggled in Cape Town, the scrum has really kicked on from there with some impressive performances culminating in a perfect record against Wales on Saturday. Add to that the number of exciting young props that the All Blacks have at their disposal – along with the “incumbent” starting props Joe Moody and Owen Franks’ return – and it is safe to assume that their scrum will keep getting better and better.
Good: Their finishers are on form
One of the best things for a rugby team is when its X-factor players are on form. These are the players that have the ability to turn a game on its head with a great finish, an unexpected line break a great bit of defence, or even a turnover to take the sting out of an attack. In Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo you have two such players.
Both wings have been in scintillating form throughout the tour and both have dominated the scoresheet. They have also been doing their bit in defence, with Naholo being particularly impressive when it comes to being a nuisance at the wide ruck. You feel that half a chance is all either of these two need to create or finish off a score. This bodes well for the tougher games that are yet to come.
Bad: Discipline is still an issue
At this level, playing right at the edge of the law is something that is part and parcel of the game. The All Blacks push it right to the edge – and have done for years – but at times they are unable to adjust until they are really under the pump.
This is something that coach Steve Hansen and his coaching staff have to correct as they are giving away far too many penalties, unnecessarily gifting away territory and points. Too many soft penalties go against the All Blacks and they need to get a grip of the situation. In big games where the stakes are high and the opposition is talented, it is not wise to dole out easy opportunities for points.
Though the Barbarians game was played by a line up largely comprising inexperienced players, the All Blacks showed a lack of patience. This is not the first time this particular issue has reared its head.
New Zealand are guilty of trying to force things from time to time and that is when they are most vulnerable. We forget that this current group does not boast the maturity and patience that the class of 2011 and 2015 had and this is because they have been playing out of their skins for the last six months.
There are times though where the lack of patience and a clear frustration at the level of their play is unmistakable and if left unchecked, it is their biggest weakness. It was visible at times against the Barbarians, Scotland, and Wales.
Good: Depth and evolution
When referring to depth, it is clear to see that the All Blacks built progressed in this area on tour with several front line players missing. New and talented players were introduced into the fray and fringe starters got more game time and more opportunities to grow and develop their game.
The likes of Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, and Luke Whitelock had time to soak up some much-needed experience. In terms of evolution, we are looking at the slight additions and modifications that established players are making to their game.
Take Sonny Bill Williams and his newly acquired, ever so deft grubbers as an example. Two months ago nobody knew he was capable of such kicking skill and now he is creating tries because of that ability. Or take Beauden Barrett and his increased level strength in contact. Suddenly he is busting out of tackles and running over defenders, which is something he wasn’t doing before.
These players are evolving their playing style and quietly becoming increasingly complete players. It is very exciting to watch.
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