The All Blacks must improve in one crucial area if they are to avoid a third straight loss against the Pumas on Saturday, says former All Black and M?ori All Blacks coach Tabai Matson.
Speaking on Sky Sport‘s The Breakdown, Matson highlighted the All Blacks’ concerning decline in red zone attacking efficiency – in other words, the All Blacks’ ability to score when inside the opposition’s 22 – in recent years, but especially in the last two games.
Over the last three years, the All Blacks have scored 32.8 per cent of the time on average when in the red zone, according to Sky Sport‘s statistics. That’s almost scoring once in every three visits to the opposition 22.
In comparison, the Wallabies and Pumas’ three-year average in that department was 27.1 per cent and 22.8 per cent respectively.
But despite the All Blacks’ relative superiority over their Tri Nations rivals, they were still “trending downwards” coming into this year in an area that has traditionally been a strength for past New Zealand sides, says Matson.
“The key thing we took into this year was we’re trending downwards. What we talked about is can we change that moving forward.
“At this level of the game, we’ve seen over the last four-five weeks, taking those few opportunities is really critical. And we didn’t the last time we played against Argentina.”
The All Blacks seemed to be bucking the trend in the first three matches against the Wallabies. Red zone attack efficiency went from 21.4 per cent in the shaky first draw then rose to 50 per cent in the second test, followed by a whopping 74.3 per cent in the 43-5 thrashing of Australia at ANZ Stadium.
However, that trend quickly went back down in Ian Foster’s first two defeats as All Blacks coach to 28.6 per cent in the fourth Wallabies test and a meager 10 per cent against Argentina.
Matson believes part of the reasons for the decline has been the All Blacks’ inability to deal with pressure and their difficulty in breaking through the opposition’s disciplined and tight defence.
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The Pumas used suffocating defensive tactics, labeled “the blue wall” by some, which included not contesting at the breakdown and at times spreading almost every player across the defensive line without a fullback.
“We’ve got five in our ruck, they’ve got 15 on their feet and we wondered why we felt like we couldn’t get through and it looked like we were one-dimensional with some of the chat we had after the games.”
So how do the All Blacks improve in the must-win clash against the Pumas? It comes down to execution, says Matson.
“[Argentina] did a really good job at the lineout. Defensive lineout wise, they had the Wallabies in trouble and they had us in trouble.
“So for us, those few opportunities we get, in particular in the red zone, we have to take them. 10 per cent won’t be enough.”
The first indication of Foster and the coaching team’s thought process heading into the game on the weekend will be revealed tomorrow when the All Blacks name their team to face Argentina.
The All Blacks will face the Pumas in Newcastle at 9.45pm on Saturday.
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