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All Blacks' 'balance for the World Cup' under threat in current environment

By Ned Lester
Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images.

One thing uniting all rugby fans in the Southern Hemisphere right now is the frustration around their team’s inconsistent performances.


Ex-All Blacks are no different. John Kirwan and Justin Marshall discussed the cause for these inconsistencies on this week’s episode of The Breakdown, while also touching on how the All Blacks’ response could affect them in the long run.

Kirwan opened the episode with the topic clearly at the forefront of his mind:

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“It’s been this incredible journey over the last seven weeks,” Kirwan said. “We’ve seen stuff from the All Blacks that we’ve never seen before, talk of divide between NZR and the players, performances, great, poor, and then last (Saturday) night, probably one out of the bag.

“It’s the inconsistency of performance right across the board. You see South Africa against Australia the week before, and then last (Saturday) night, they put that performance on, us against Argentina and then that performance last (Saturday) night…”

Kirwin emphasised the difference in winning margins this year compared with previous:

“When you’re three per cent off, you’d lose by three points, three years ago. Now if you’re three per cent off, it’s going to be a bad night”


The disruption of Covid was at the root of much of the discussion.

“One of the biggest challenges, I believe, is your balance for the World Cup, and I do believe everyone lost a year through Covid.”

The “balance” Kirwan is referring to is having both young, in-form players as well as the experienced veterans.



Considering that lost year is essentially one quarter of the world cup cycle, it leads to challenges around squad cohesion and depth.

Marshall added that the form of teams like Argentina is making it more difficult for the All Blacks to build that depth:

“The Pumas aren’t helping the situation,” Marshall joked.

“They’re much more competitive, so they are making it harder for teams to rotate their players because you have to put a top team out against them.”

With less opportunity to blood and develop young players, the race for key roster spots is less competitive and more of a given.

“If you think about the year before a World Cup, you’re trying to consolidate, you’re trying to decide what your starting 15 is, your full 30-man squad,” Kirwan added.

Applying further selection pressure, is the evolution of the game in its physicality.

“The game is incredibly physical, and I don’t know if you can play a game like you played in South Africa and then back it up a week later, so the bigger the squad and the more test experience you have, the better off you’re going to be moving forward.”

The All Blacks’ ability to inject young players without sacrificing results seems a distant memory for a team that now appears determined to play as much of the same 23-man side as possible each week.


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