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The five All Blacks cracks exposed by the Springboks

By Liam Napier, NZ Herald

Naturally satisfied by beginning their Rugby World Cup campaign on a bright note, the All Blacks are also well aware improvement is needed to fulfil their quest for three straight Webb Ellis Cups in Japan.

Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus quickly noted the All Blacks will face different, potentially tougher, challenges from the northern hemisphere style of opposition later in the tournament.

Regardless of their remaining softer pool matches, this is just one reason the group phase will be used to refine and expand elements of the All Blacks game.

Liam Napier looks at five areas they will be keen to improve in the coming weeks.

The set piece

The All Blacks pride themselves on set piece strength. While the northern nations like to think they dominate this area, very few teams regularly get the better of the All Blacks here.

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The Springboks, though, succeeded in exerting huge pressure on the All Blacks’ scrum and lineout. This forms a key part of the Boks game, and the All Blacks will be aware there is room for improvement.

Prop Joe Moody was probably fortunate not to be penalised as his elbow hit the deck during a couple of scrums. The All Blacks also lost two of their nine lineouts for a 78 per cent success rate (the Boks had 9/9).

As the tournament progresses, particularly come the knockout stages, the All Blacks will look to employ their set piece as a strike weapon.

With the lineout and scrum concentrating forward packs to one area, space is there to exploit. But for these first-phase moves to come off, the platform must first be delivered.

Attacking execution

The six-minute attacking blitz that blew away the Boks made the rugby world rock forward in their seats but the All Blacks could, in fact, have put many more points on the Boks.

On one occasion in the second half, Beauden Barrett loomed up on the outside with acres of room in front of him, only for a poor pass to stop the sweeping movement. Had Barrett received the ball, the All Blacks seemed set to score with an unmarked man outside him.

In another instance, the All Blacks audaciously ran the ball from their own in-goal and Scott Barrett had his pass intercepted. If that pass sticks, the All Blacks are off to the races.

In these tight, tense games the All Blacks strive to nail every chance they create.

They may well have reversed the result in Dublin last year had they executed better – think the rare Kieran Read chargedown error. Against nations such as Ireland, one of the best defensive teams at this tournament, similar moments could prove defining.

“We were put under a lot of pressure at crucial times where if we nailed them we could have hurt the Boks a lot more,” Barrett acknowledged.

“Basically it comes down to our skill execution under pressure which we’re going to get throughout the tournament particularly when there’s a greasy ball when you get the high line-speed teams and the pressure comes on in terms of knockout footy. There’s a lot to learn but a lot of it comes down to our skill execution under pressure.”

Breakdown defence

An ongoing area of concern for the All Blacks.

Wallabies halfback Nic White had a field day around the fringes in the record Perth defeat.

The All Blacks swiftly rectified this issue the following week at Eden Park but they will be disappointed by the ease with which Pieter-Steph du Toit strolled through untouched to score in Yokohama.

On this occasion, the All Blacks had no pillar defender on the left-hand side of the ruck.

Boks halfback Faf de Klerk appeared keen to shift the ball after a strong carry from Eben Etzebeth but du Toit spotted the space, picked it from de Klerk’s hands at the base of the ruck and loped all of 10 metres to score under the sticks.

Tries must be much more difficult to come by so expect the All Blacks to remind their forwards of the importance of regaining their feet quickly to plug these gaps.

Moody, Scott Barrett and Sam Cane, who didn’t return after halftime, topped the All Blacks tackle count with 10 each but as du Toit proved, one missed marker will be punished.

Starting better

It may have been a case of opening night nerves or emotions spilling over from the impassioned haka but the All Blacks will certainly target better starts.

Both from the opening kickoff, and after halftime, the Boks enjoyed long periods of dominance.

Not until Read gathered his troops for a calming chat did the All Blacks stop throwing wild offloads at the start of the match and they were, perhaps, guilty of not bringing the same intensity to open the second half after breaking out to lead 17-3.

Dual playmaker combo

More of a positive than anything else. Five tests into their starting combination, Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett’s understanding can only improve.

They weren’t perfect by any stretch against the Boks but the signs are there that, gradually, their dual playmaker combination will come together.

Barrett’s 17 carries against the Boks – seven more than the next most in George Bridge – is exactly what the All Blacks are trying to achieve.

The more touches from Barrett in space, the better.

Mo’unga’s cross-field kicks to pick out Sevu Reece also sparked the opening try but the task of getting around rush defences will not get any easier particularly when the All Blacks confront the northern hemisphere versions of ingrained linespeed.

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and was republished with permission.

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The five All Blacks cracks exposed by the Springboks