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Do these All Blacks have the ruthless final quarter in them?

By Hamish Bidwell

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Where are you at with these All Blacks?

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Take away national pride and your basic hopes and aspirations for the side. When you see these players – as individuals and as a collective – do you feel like you’re looking at one of the great All Black teams?

We don’t really do works in progress here and rightly so. We expect excellence and, frankly, history has largely shown that we’re entitled to demand that.

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Whitelock talks to media about penalties in Bledisloe I

I’m not an Ian Foster enthusiast. I’ve never supported his ascension from assistant coach to head coach and I was appalled when New Zealand Rugby (NZR) appointed him.

Rightly or wrongly, that probably means I’m looking for fault more often than not. That I’m looking for signs that the All Blacks aren’t making progress under his stewardship and consequently not giving Foster and the team the credit they deserve.

I was underwhelmed by Saturday’s 33-25 win over Australia at Eden Park. I’m not sure the Wallabies are any good and, at 33-8, it certainly didn’t look like it.

Come full time, though, there wasn’t a lot between the teams.

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So, honestly, is that because the Wallabies are in fact an elite side? Or was the final score more of a reflection of the All Blacks’ inadequacies?

I’ve already flagged my potential bias here, so let’s eliminate Foster. Let’s look at the men in the black jumpers and wonder aloud about them.

Are you convinced that Damian McKenzie is a test-quality fullback? Outstanding Super Rugby player, obviously, but does he instill you with confidence at this level?

What about Sevu Reece on the right wing?

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Anton Lienert-Brown is an admirable player and person and a genuine leader within the All Blacks environment, so he’s going to play 12 or 13 whenever fit. This week it was centre and, while Lienert-Brown is industrious and dependable, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen better 13s in my time.

I like David Havili and would love to see him do well, but Saturday wasn’t his best night. At this early stage of his All Blacks career, the jury is still out.

Rieko Ioane was good against Australia and I prefer him on the wing.

Richie Mo’unga showed us glimpses of his undoubted ability, but we’re still yet to see him regularly stamp his authority on test rugby. Hopefully he’s given an extended run at first five-eighth and is able to fully show his wares.

Aaron Smith is an all-time great, so no dramas there.

I’m not sure Ardie Savea is a test No.8. Just as I feel Dalton Papalii is only a stop-gap No.7.

As for Akira Ioane, I’m not sure he’d be in my team at all.

Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are two of the best locks we’ve ever seen and then there’s the front row.

Codie Taylor is world class, it’s too soon to judge George Bower and Nepo Laulala is a proven performer.

There’s long been a ruthless efficiency about All Black teams. How many times have we seen them put 20 or 30 points on teams in the final quarter of tests? Opponents might be able to hang in there for an hour, but they eventually succumb to the intensity and speed of New Zealand’s play.

I’m not convinced Ian Foster’s All Blacks have that in them. I’m not sure teams fear them or that these All Blacks have the accuracy and discipline to dominate the way so many previous sides have.

Is that them or is that him? Do we lack outstanding players or are they not getting outstanding coaching?

Foster’s unfortunate in the sense that his appointment was not universally popular. And, as we go along, even those who were in favour of him succeeding Steve Hansen – or at least those who were happy to see how things would go – are surely beginning to wonder if it was the right decision.

To put it bluntly, none of the potential doubts about Foster are being erased by the quality and cohesion of the team’s performances.

Again, though, is that down to him and his coaching team or the crop of players we possess?

Either way, I’m not hugely convinced by this All Blacks team and I suspect I’m not alone there.

What are the chances they beat Australia by 30 points this weekend? Let’s say 46-16 or something in that ballpark.

I’d wager that’s a fair reflection of the two teams’ ability and, on that score, I sympathise with Foster. When the team plays well – it’s as we all expected – and when they’re bad, it’s his fault.

Actually, this is all on NZR and the more these All Blacks struggle to put away mediocre opponents, the more the governing body ought to be criticised for promoting a guy above his station.

Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

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Do these All Blacks have the ruthless final quarter in them?

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