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'That was personal': How the All Blacks found 'ruthless edge' against Italy

By Ned Lester
Forwards coach Jason Ryan watches the All Blacks warm up. Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Any thoughts of a famous Italy upset over New Zealand were quickly doused in Lyon’s pivotal Pool A contest, as the All Blacks ran in 14 tries to remind the rugby world of their pedigree.

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After two record losses in the three matches prior, expectations for the All Blacks were varied against an ever-improving Six Nations opponent.

No one, however, not even the All Blacks players themselves expected a 96-17 demolition.

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The statement has been made and the quarter-finals are one step closer. The potential matchup is one for the ages.

As it stands, the All Blacks would face Ireland in the quarter-finals. The teams have not played each other since last year’s historic three-game series, where Ireland won their first-ever game and series on New Zealand soil.

While Ireland have well established themselves as an attacking threat against any team, Ian Foster’s side, on the other hand, are still finding ways to get the ball into the hands of their dangermen against physical opposition.

Against Italy, they did just that.

“We have to celebrate the All Blacks,” Former All Black James Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “Because I’ve sat on here and pumped Ireland up around putting out their best side and dominating, just wiping the floor.

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“Italy, everyone was talking them up to win. That was personal. That’s the sort of ruthless edge that may just give them the confidence now that they can go and execute as well as that against a better side in Ireland.”

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Initiating that ruthless edge was a greatly improved set piece, specifically lineout. The return of blindside flanker Shannon Frizell was credited as a major influence on the improvement, and so too was forwards coach and former Crusaders guru Jason Ryan.

Frizell has the ability to cover lock and started there for a number of games this season for the Highlanders.

The flow-on effect from the strong set piece was evident early and only improved once the New Zealand bench took the field.

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“They were very Crusader-like,” Parsons continued. “I don’t know if it’s Jason Ryan but that variation around that lineout attack was outstanding.

“Shannon Frizell was quite key, his ability in the lineout is quite critical to us being successful at set piece. We ran at 100 per cent.

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“There are so many moving parts and it was similar movements, that picture never really changed but the option changed. And that’s when it’s hard defensively: When the triggers and everything is exactly the same every time and you think you’ve got it and then they go and change the point of attack.

“Now, they’ve shown so much that teams will think ‘right, we’ve got to sort out our transition defence, we’ve got to be right around the front’ and then, we can now maul because it just creates that hesitancy.

“Having that innovation is a big, big gain for them and was a good reason where I think they got their mojo going, and I don’t think we’ve seen that.

“It’s been pretty status quo for a while around our lineout attack.”

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Jon 58 minutes 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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