'There's still a lot of trophies in the cabinet': Glass half full on All Blacks' year
The All Blacks disappointing end to the 2021 season after 15 tests has added pressure on the side after their disrupted 2020 season also ended in unconvincing fashion with three wins from six tests.
Ian Foster’s side locked up the Bledisloe Cup with a 3-nil sweep over Australia before clinching The Rugby Championship with a round to spare, but the three test losses to South Africa, Ireland and France brought the side back to Earth.
It was the first All Blacks side to lose three tests in a calendar year since 2009. Evaluating what we’ve seen from the side since 2019, former All Black James Parsons said New Zealand have improved in certain areas since the last World Cup.
“I certainly think they have made improvements, ” Parsons explained on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“They’ve had the blueprint, when they’ve had that front foot ball and been really physical at the breakdown, we’ve seen how electric their attack can be.
“For the most part, except for the last two weeks, their defensive system has been really strong. They’ve really focused on that low tackler, and getting in and winning those breakdown turnovers.
“That’s becoming such a key part of the game, the ability to turn that ball over. So for the most part I think their game has evolved.”
Parsons highlighted the change of approach against France to play through the forwards as one example of how the All Blacks have evolved their game since 2019, with their regular expansive attacking game being widely known these days.
“I don’t think we had that pick-and-go mindset, I think that has been a big shift,” Parsons said of one key change the All Blacks had made.
“Obviously, we were quite the expansive team, we had three forwards and a clear way of attack. As you’ve alluded too, teams have got used to that and they believe that line speed pressure can put us under pressure.
“I think there has been evolution in our game, but I think it is important to know as well, if there is ever a time to have back-to-back losses, I think the last time was 2009 which was two years out from the 2011 World Cup, and we know how successful that was.
“I think there are so many lessons and positives to take out of this situation, call me an optimistic bloke, but I think it sets us up.
“If you look at the Springboks before the 2019 World Cup, people were probably saying the same things. They really found their way, galvanised as a group and lead the charge into 2019.
“I’m hoping to see the same from us.”
Parsons said despite a side like Ireland being in fantastic form with all the right ingredients, at the end of the day everyone will be judged on the World Cup. Ireland’s form will be redundant if they can’t peak in two years time.
On the positive side, he pointed to the trophy cabinet which the All Blacks managed to fill with the Bledisloe cup, the Rugby Championship title and the Freedom Cup despite conceding the Dave Gallaher Trophy to France.
“If you look it on face value on form, the Irish are playing some great footy and their skillset in attack, Tadhg Furlong’s making line breaks, offloading to his mate Porter, he did it again on the weekend.
“They are creating depth as well. Their forwards, with the combination of experienced players in Sexton and Murray in and around that group, and guys like Jamison Gibson-Park adding a bit of flair, James Lowe and Bundee Aki, they are in a really good spot.
“But it’s about finding the form they are in now and peaking for the World Cup. Because that’s what everyone will be judged on.
“At the end of the day with the All Blacks, there’s still a lot of trophies in the cabinet. Ok, we are missing two, but outside of that we aren’t missing any others.”
Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall also agreed, adding he would rather lose now and learn from it in order to rectify things for a successful World Cup campaign in 2023.
“Another example around Ireland, they felt like they were peaking two years out from a World Cup,” Hall said.
“We are so used to the excellence of the All Blacks winning every year but for me personally, I’d rather take the losses right now and be in a position to take the learnings and be able to adapt our game two years out and have the end result of winning the 2023 World Cup.
“Due to having a tough end of year tour that we had this year.”
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