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Super Rugby star's three tips to improve the All Blacks in 2022

By Sam Smith

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Five-time Super Rugby champion Bryn Hall has outlined three ways in which the All Blacks can improve from their subpar campaign heading into next year.

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The All Blacks finished their 2021 season with 12 wins from 15 tests, with defeats to the Springboks, Ireland and France condemning them to their worst record since 2009.

Back-to-back losses to Ireland and France in Dublin and Paris left a particularly sour taste in the mouths of Kiwi fans as New Zealand’s attack failed to fire, leading to growing calls for All Blacks boss Ian Foster to be sacked by New Zealand Rugby [NZR].

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The winners and losers of the 2021 All Blacks season | Aotearoa Rugby Pod
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The winners and losers of the 2021 All Blacks season | Aotearoa Rugby Pod

That is unlikely to happen given Foster – who guided the All Blacks to Bledisloe Cup, Rugby Championship and Freedom Cup success this year – signed a two-year contract extension with NZR in August, a deal that will see him stay in charge of the side until the 2023 World Cup in France.

It’s clear that improvement is needed between now and then, though, and Hall has offered three different ways in which the All Blacks can do that to re-establish their credentials as the strongest team in the world.

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, the 29-year-old Maori All Blacks representative acknowledged that New Zealand had struggled in their losses to South Africa, Ireland and France, and attributed that, in part, to the fact that the All Blacks weren’t allowed to play the high-tempo game they are suited to.

“We’ve had trouble in test matches. You look at the loss against South Africa, and then Ireland and France, I think we’ve talked about it at length,” Hall said.

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“When the All Blacks are going really well, it’s [because they are] playing at high-tempo and get that ball out quick with Nuggy [Aaron Smith], or whoever’s selected at 9, and getting that ball out quick to our decision-makers and our guys out on the edge, letting them do what they do.”

The three-time Super Rugby winner and two-time Super Rugby Aotearoa champion said that if the All Blacks want to play their preferred style, then improvements must be made at the breakdown.

That aspect of the game is something Foster’s side battled with all season, and not just against the Springboks, Ireland and France.

Fiji and Italy also put New Zealand under far more pressure in that area than most had anticipated they would during their respective matches in Dunedin and Rome, leading Hall to highlight the breakdown as a part of their game that needs fixing.

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“I think winning the breakdown and being efficient at the breakdown against those northern hemisphere teams,” he told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“You look at Ireland, the way that they were able to hold onto the ball for long periods of time to get a penalty or to kick for goal or to be able to score tries off that quick ball.

“I think that’s one thing we need to get back to and, no doubt, that’s probably one thing that the coaching staff will be wanting to get better at for long periods of time.”

Hall added that if the All Blacks can’t dominate the breakdown, and therefore aren’t afforded quick ball to attack from, then Foster’s side need to learn how to adapt and operate in a low-tempo match against quick defensive lines.

Negating line speed pressure was another sticking point of the All Blacks’ campaign this year, and Hall suggested various way in which the Kiwis can improve in that respect over the coming months.

“I think, also, attacking off slow ball when we’ve got line speed pressure against us, I think the fact that we haven’t been able to get that quick ball, it’s then being able to attack off that slow ball,” he said.

“What does that look like? Is it being able to go through the middle, like we saw in those test matches [against France]?

“Or is it going to a kicking game with a contestable mindset off Nuggy or off 10, cross-field kicks that we saw from Beaudy [Beauden Barrett] and Jordie [Barrett]?”

Furthermore, Hall said that, should the All Blacks look to become more of an aerial threat in their attempt to overcome line speed pressure, contestable kicks from the team’s playmakers need to become a strength of game play.

Although France and Ireland defeated the All Blacks while largely keeping the ball in hand, the Springboks wreaked havoc with the All Blacks by putting them under aerial pressure through hoards of box kicks and bombs.

Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that, when confronted with those tactics next year and beyond, the All Blacks need to be better-equipped to deal with that style of play.

He said that could involve offsetting those tactics with a counter-attacking running game, or the All Blacks may opt to match their opponents with a strong kicking game of their own.

“I think probably the last one as well is being able to attack off the box kicks or the contestable kicks that come at us. I know some teams have played a lot more rugby,” he said.

“I look at France and Ireland who did play a lot of rugby, but I think, again, it’s a continuation of trying to get better if the teams do want to kick against us and put us in contestable focus, we’ve got to be able to attack off that.

“What does that look like? Is it running, being able to build pressure, or is it kicking back on our terms to be able to build pressure like those other teams do as well?”

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