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All Blacks vs England takeaways: The Perenara fade away, Razor's defensive concern

By Ben Smith
Alex Mitchell of England passes during the International Test Match between New Zealand All Blacks and England at Forsyth Barr Stadium on July 06, 2024 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Scott Robertson was the first to admit there was plenty to work on following the 16-15 win over England, but was elated at the effort and grit of his side to get the result.

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He lamented the missed opportunities in the first half, which he wanted to put England under scoreboard pressure and force them to chase the game.

Not coming up with two or three tries in that first half changed the complexion of the game and forced the All Blacks into an arm wrestle in the second.

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We saw a number of new things from the All Blacks under Razor and his coaching staff, here are four takeaways from the first Test from a New Zealand perspective.

Counter-attack imperative

The All Blacks’ intent off turnover ball was very clear in Dunedin: use every opportunity from the free play.

Whilst not new for the All Blacks and something that was seen throughout Foster’s tenure, the ‘click’ plays in transition look to be back in a big way.

It took all of 39 seconds to see it when a high pass above Tommy Freeman’s head was scooped quickly by Sevu Reece. Within half a second four black jerseys swarmed around Reece down a five metre flank. The interlinking play finished with Samipeni Finau falling into touch despite a last ditch offload, but that intent continued all through the half.

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Just seven minutes in, a Codie Taylor ruck steal 30 metres from their own line was quickly shovelled down the short side by Tyrel Lomax. Short, sharp passes attacked the condensed space and Perofeta slipped an offload in contact to Reece.

Before the half, a botched England strike play was sent across their own goal posts to Jordie Barrett for a scamper. After a change of possession the No 12 snatched a ruck steal which was the biggest opportunity to launch.

Ardie Savea’s inside pass to McKenzie was called forward, and Tommy Freeman snatched a smart intercept to kill off the play. A 90 metre All Black try went begging in the process.

This is the part of the All Blacks’ game that will put the world on notice. If these plays start coming together they will bury teams who want to throw the ball around but can’t.

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Lots of shapes but second half fade

In phase play the All Blacks showed a lot of structure and different shapes and McKenzie played a steady hand running the show.

In the first half they really had to set up deep to negate some of the line speed, which to England’s credit did the job. The pressure forced enough slow passes that they were able to close on the open man.

Henry Slade was outstanding on the edge, as was Feyi-Waboso. George Furbank proved tough as nails, taking some decent shots from Sevu but also delivering one himself jamming in Rieko Ioane.

Each variation showed a lot of McKenzie playing out the back a lot, rolling off screens. A nice switch by TJ Perenara allowed Stephen Perofeta to expose England after beating his one-on-one. That was one of the few periods of attack the All Blacks were winning gain line.

In the second half without Perenara on the field, the All Blacks fell into static ball rendering most of the patterns useless. They found themselves going backward and resorting to the “grind” of the kicking game to win some penalties.

Not the worst outcome, they found way and did what they needed to get the result, but there is lots to think about in attack to build a platform that gives front foot ball.

TJ’s absence

Speaking of TJ’s absence, the Hurricane is now under an injury cloud, which throws doubt over how the side will be configured for the second Test.

Crusaders halfback Noah Hotham has been drafted in but wouldn’t be expected to see the field unless another No 9 goes down.

We saw forty minutes of Finlay Christie who struggled to deal with pressure at the breakdown at Test level a couple of times.

He got pinched by Maro Itoje, giving flashbacks of when Kwagga Smith stripped him for a try at Mt Smart last year.

To his credit, Christie’s box kicking was a big part of winning the second half, but the All Blacks’ attack has never really fired with Christie on the field, going back to 2023.

There is a big question mark there despite the continual selection. He needs a big showing at Test level and Eden Park might be his chance.

Ratima is the No 9 with the best pass in the country but he will likely get picked on the bench.

Nit picking the defence

The defence kept a pretty clean sheet, no penalties in the contact area and few at the breakdown, and in the end only conceded 15 points which at Test level is fantastic.

Nit picking the defence, if there was something to be concerned about it was the ease at which England made ground in the lead up to their tries.

Perhaps it was the fast track in Dunedin that played a part. Alex Mitchell probing around the rucks made big in roads. And that led to both tries.

Quick ball after a George Furbank kick return skinned the All Blacks down the blind, a nice flick pass kept the ball alive. They rumbled down and forced a goal line drop out.

After the restart, another Marcus Smith grubber trapped McKenzie on the side line and from the five metre lineout Maro Itoje grabbed his try a few phases into the movement.

In the second half after a short side raid that begun the momentum around halfway, Marcus Smith put Cunningham-South through a hole. Tommy Freeman came up metres short and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso finished off as the All Blacks just ran out of room to defend.

Their were some sloppy misses in those movements and not shutting down Mitchell proved costly.

The All Blacks were lucky in a sense that referee Nika Amashukeli loved pinging the side in possession of the ball, calling up sides for sealing off regularly.

Ardie Savea also came up with two massive ruck penalties on defence, both times coming inside their own 22 with England hot on attack.

The reason why it’s an issue is the All Blacks face the Springboks twice in South Africa, and Ireland and France away.

Those big sides will see how England were able to run over Robertson’s side and follow suit later in the year.

 

All Black second row Brodie Retallick joins Jim Hamilton for the latest episode of Walk the Talk, touching on life in Japan, RWC 2023 and the future of All Black rugby. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

12 Comments
B
B.J. Spratt 14 days ago

Christie has had plenty of chances. Never dynamic enough for an All Black half back. Can’t see or seize opportunities to run and very weak at the breakdown and quite slow to pass. Top half backs score tries, he doesn’t. Half backs pick themselves.

1.ROIGARD 23 years -
Provincial 17 games 4 tries
Professional Hurricanes 32 games 12 Tries
All Blacks 6 games 4 tries

2.HOTHAM 21 years
Provincial Tasman 16 games 10 tries
OR Professional Crusaders 9 games 4 tries

2.RATIMA 23 years
Provincial 38 games 9 tries
Professional Chiefs 42 games 16 tries

CHRISTIE 29 years
Provincial 53 games 8 tries
Professional Blues 77 15 tries
All Blacks 22 games 1 try

FAKATAVA 24 YEARS
Provincial Hawkes Bay 45 games 9 tries
Professional Highlanders 52 games 12 tries
All Blacks 4 games 1 try

PERENARA 32 YEARS
Provincial Wellington 31 games 6 tries
Professional Hurricanes 163 games 65 tries
NZ Under 20 5 games 3 tries
All Blacks 81 games 17 tries

S
Sunny 15 days ago

I have alway stressed that the number 8's 9's and 10's are the mainstay of the team. There has to be an opportunity for those 3 guys to come together in conversation as to how, and when they want the ball released from scrums, rucks, and mauls.
The 8 will keep the ball until the halfback calls for the ball. The halfbacks job then is to talk, communicate with his 8, in the meantime the 10 will be looking at oppositions defensive backline formation. That way the10 will let the 9 whether he’s going to the blind side, or he’s going status Quo open side.
In Short, it’s Imperative that the 8, 9, and 10 should get together to talk about their strategy, whether they go blind, open, or straight up the middle. The 10 must let his 12 what's gonna happen, then the 12 will let the other backs what's happening.

S
Sunny 15 days ago

“Who wrote this commentary on the All Blacks v Poms?”
“Was it a kiwi, or a pom?
Either way it doesn't really matter who wrote it, but I take offence to what that person said. Quote; “Other teams that play the All Blacks later in year will take note of how England ran over the top of the All Blacks.”
I must have been watching a different game to the one he was watching.
2nd Test All Blacks to win more comfortably by 15 to 20 points.

M
Marc 15 days ago

Finlay was doing a lot of pointing before he had secured the ball. And looking around before passing. Those seconds allowed the defence to reset. Can he just concentrate on getting fast, clean ball and do what he is supposed to do instead of telling everyone else what to do. He needs to trust the guys outside him.

U
Utiku Old Boy 16 days ago

Hoping the first test gives this AB group plenty to work on for Eden Park. As Ben points out, some of the early signs showed promise and execution was the let-down - before adjusting in the final quarter and closing out the win. Reiko should not start the second game with either ALB or Proctor in his place and I would rather Ratima start with FC on the bench again. Finau has the raw ingredients but, as pointed out by others below, he needs confidence to grow into his potential. Does he start again? Some boldness in selection and a push for greater execution to counter the rush D should see the pretenders put away. (In actual fact, this England side are showing a marked growth in depth of attack and defense).

N
Nickers 16 days ago

I actually thought BB coming on restored some much needed structure. He did lose one kicking battle, but whatever we were trying to do between minutes 30 and 50 was not working and getting worse.

All of the ABs history with rush defence shows you can’t go around it from static ball, you have to punch holes through it, and/or kick earlier in the phase count. DMac kicks as a last resort, with back foot ball, under pressure. Whereas BB will seize an opportunity to do it on the first phase on the front foot if it will put pressure on, which he did beautifully a couple of times. Fans don’t like this but it made a bug difference on Saturday. Simply going through the hands, as the ABs reverted to doing, often in their own half, was starting to look like the disastrous NH tour of 2021. I hope they vary their kicking game a bit more next week.

Maybe not just BB, but the whole bench completely changed the game. Reiko was average and ALB must now be putting some serious pressure on him, and Vaa’i made a huge difference when he came on. It’s a shame we don’t have more locks to give him some genuine game time at 6. Finau seems like the type of player that would really relish an arm wrestle, but he was fairly quiet, and Vaa’i had a noticeable impact.

Perofeta was possibly the biggest surprise. Came in with a bit of a question mark, not on his ability but being the first choice 15, and he was excellent. England preferred to kick to DMac so I don’t think Perofeta was under any high ball pressure, but he added a lot of attacking intent coming into the line that BB doesn’t really provide.

M
Michael 16 days ago

I don't think Christie has yet summoned up the courage to start challenging around the rucks. That will help the attack flourish more when he's on the field.

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