To the Bledisloe Cup, then, and hopefully, from an All Blacks perspective, significant improvements in the team’s collective performance for the retention of the second most cherished trophy in their collection.
Nothing will focus All Black minds more than Wednesday’s squad announcement and the requirement for the 31 remaining players to farewell those who won’t prepare for the first test against the Wallabies in Perth a week on Saturday. The return match is at Eden Park on August 17.
Steve Hansen and his fellow coaches will hope that extra edge, match fitness and game understanding gained from the runouts against Argentina and South Africa will clear the way for a more cohesive attack; and the ability to actually catch the ball will help enormously with that, too.
There’s not too much wrong with the All Blacks’ defence; and credit must go to assistant coach Scott McLeod here as he received more than his share of criticism from the public and some pundits last year after succeeding Wayne Smith.
The concession of two tries in two tests isn’t a bad result and the one scored by Herschel Jantjies in the final minute in Wellington at the weekend was unlucky. Cheslin Kolbe’s speculative kick could have gone anywhere and it was unfortunate for Aaron Smith that it bounced a little high for him and into the hands of Jantjies.
The All Blacks will almost certainly name their strongest line-up against the Wallabies for a test in front of a crowd of more than 60,000 at a sold-out stadium.
Brodie Retallick won’t feature until the World Cup at the earliest due to his dislocated shoulder, and Sonny Bill Williams will drop to the Mitre 10 Cup where he will probably play two games for Counties Manukau – possibly a pre-season match in Katikati on Saturday and the round one fixture against Taranaki at Pukekohe – in order to improve his match fitness.
But elsewhere Hansen will go with his big guns and that will provide further evidence of his thinking for the first World Cup pool game against the Springboks and following knockout matches.
Asked what he expected from the Wallabies, who lost their first Rugby Championship game against the Springboks in South Africa before edging the Pumas 16-10 in Brisbane at the weekend, he replied:”A torrid battle. We always have great games against them – it will be a fast game.”
With Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett finally finding their rhythm just after halftime at Westpac Stadium, the pace at which the All Blacks played was noticeably high. The Boks were stretched to breaking point. More of the same but without the handling errors will be the plan in Perth.
“Sometimes when you’re trying new things you’re having to think about how you’re doing them,” Hansen said in defence of his players, and in particular his forwards, a day after the 16-16 draw. “In a high-speed game when there’s a high-speed defensive line coming at you, you haven’t got time to think about it. You have to be instinctive.
“When you slow down to think about it some of your motor skills go. Sometimes your lungs go pretty quick too and then your skills go. Some of the big boys last night really felt the pinch of the speed of the game because we asked them to do a lot.”
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