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Ex-All Black praises forwards but calls out no 'rhythm and unity' in backline

By Ned Lester
Rieko Ioane is tackled. Photo by Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Jason Ryan has again been applauded for his remarkable work turning the All Blacks‘ forward pack into one of the world’s most formidable after being thoroughly out-muscled against Ireland.

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The compliments this time come from former All Black No 8 and captain, Murray Mexted.

Mexted spoke to Martin Devlin on The Platform and was focused solely on how this year’s performances prepared the New Zealand team for next year’s World Cup. While he acknowledged the inconsistencies the team have shown are a significant vulnerability, he claimed the improved play in the forwards has the team in good stead.

“It’s not easy to win three or four in a row,” Mexted said of the route to World Cup glory. “We’re not performing consistently.

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“But to do that, we need to be able to dominate any forward pack in the world. If we can’t beat them (there) then we’re not going to win it so, I think we made great progress in the forwards since Jason Ryan’s been on board – they’ve made steady progress and that all came to fruition at this fantastic Twickenham Stadium.”

While the All Blacks have faced more than a sprinkling of criticism for how England came back into the game in the final ten minutes at Twickenham, Mexted was more concerned with the first 70 minutes and how it compared to the Ireland series at the start of the season.

“You’d have to say that’s a pretty good result when you look back six months,” Mexted continued. “Because it’s probably been one of the worst years we’ve ever had in rugby, so much so that the All Blacks head coach, his position was threatened.

“A 25-all draw against England, not a great result on the scoreboard but a great result as far as exposing our limitations and realizing that we’ve got a forward pack that can beat anyone in the world.

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“If we’re big enough and strong enough and ugly enough to beat a team like England on their home ground when they were up for that match – don’t worry about that – and we dominated them in the scrum, dominated them in the lineout, dominated them in the driving maul for 70 minutes, that’s pretty bloody impressive.”

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Jason Ryan and Joe Shmidt assumed the roles of forwards and attack coaches respectively following the Ireland series loss.

The front row of Ethan de Groot, Samisoni Taukei’aho and Tyrel Lomax soon got their chance to start under Ryan and the forwards have found fine form since.

The defensive cohesion of the backs, on the other hand, was a real area of concern in Mexted’s eyes and an uncharacteristic weakness for an All Blacks team.

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“We’ve got problems in the backs. When I say problems, they haven’t ironed out their best backline yet.

“I don’t think there is rhythm and unity in that backline, every team we play against, we have trouble in defence, our defensive record is poor. That’s one reason why we’re not playing consistently because I think our defence is poor and every team we play can split us open in the backline, well that never happens with an All Black team. ”

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Jon 2 hours ago
Sam Cane was unfairly cast in Richie McCaw's shadow for too long

> McCaw’s durability and sustained excellence were unique, but we seemed to believe his successors were cut from the same cloth. It’s easy to forget McCaw was just as heavily critiqued for the last two years of his career. The only real difference was his captaining criticisms and his playing criticisms happened at different times, where Cane was criticized for a few things in both areas for all of his last 4 years. This was also heavily influenced by another McCaw esque presence, in Ardie Savea, being in the team and pushed out of his original position. It could be said we essentially didn’t have the 3 prior years with Ardie as world player of the year because he was changing into this new role. I say “original” position as despite him never coming out and saying his desire is to perform his role from, that I know of, clearly as part of a partnership with Cane as 7, I don’t think this was because he really wanted Cane’s playing spot. I think it most likely that it comes down to poor All Black management that those sort of debates weren’t put to bed as being needless and irrelevant. It has been brought up many times in past few months of discussions on articles here at RP, that early calls in WC cycles, to say pigeonhole an All Black team into being required to have a physical dynamo on defence at 7 (and ballplyaer at 8 etc) are detrimental. In the end we did not even come up against a team that threw large bodies at us relentlessly, like why we encountered in the 2019 WC semi final, at all in this last WC. Even then they couldn’t see the real weakness was defending against dynamic attacks (which we didn’t want to/couldn’t give 2019 England credit for) like the Twickenham Boks, and Irish and French sides (even 10 minutes of an English onslaught) that plagued our record and aura the last 4 years. It really is a folly that is the All Blacks own creation, and I think it pure luck, and that Cane was also such a quality All Black, that he was also became an integral part of stopping the side from getting run off the park. Not just rampaged. > The hushed tones, the nods of approval, the continued promotion of this nonsense that these men are somehow supernatural beings. I bet this author was one of those criticizing Cane for coming out and speaking his mind in defence of his team that year. Despite the apparent hypocrisy I agree with the sentiment, but I can only see our last captain as going down the same road his two prior captains, Read and McCaw, have gone. I am really for Cane becoming an extra member to each squad this year, June, RC, and November tours, and he is really someone I can see being able to come back into the role after 3 seasons in Japan. As we saw last year, we would have killed for someone of his quality to have been available rather than calling on someone like Blackadder. Just like the Boks did for 2023.

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