'We got a bit of a rude awakening': All Blacks' problem area fixed
In the aftermath of the All Blacks first test against Fiji, the hotly contested breakdown became a talking point as the Flying Fijians pressured the All Blacks on the ground all night, winning turnovers seemingly at will.
After making a host of changes for the second test in Hamilton, Foster and his staff were rewarded with a better performance at the ruck, aided by a different refereeing style that assistant coach John Plumtree says worked in their favour.
“I think the referee is a bit tougher in that area this week, which is great, which is what we wanted,” Plumtree told the media after the match.
Plumtree says the All Blacks changed their approach to be tighter, with cleaners keeping their distances close in their approach to the ruck. The aim was to get the poachers off the ball early, where Johnny Dyer had disrupted them the week before.
“We put a bigger focus on our support being a little bit closer this week, rocket and thrashing is that terminology,” he said.
“Whipping the jackalers out a little bit earlier. Once we sorted a couple of things out at halftime we got even better, so that was really good.
“I think as they got a little bit tired, it was a bit easier for us. But certainly when they were fresh, pretty great intent of slowing our ball down, of killing our ball, stopping us from playing.
“Once we got that right, we were away.”
One of the changes to the loose forward unit was the return of Ardie Savea, who admitted that they got a “rude awakening” after the first test.
With No 8 Luke Jacobson elevated to the starting line-up alongside Savea and known enforcer Akira Ioane, the All Blacks’ loose forwards were able to bring more abrasive physicality to match the Fijians.
“After the first time we played them, we got a bit of a rude awakening around that. Fiji are amazing over the ball so that was a focus for us, making sure we had lightning quick ball,” Savea said.
“There were a few times they were still putting us under pressure in the breakdown but there were times where we got it right and we scored points.
“That will be a huge focus moving forward, just getting our basic skill sets [right], our tackle, ball-carry, cleaners – getting that on point so that we can play our game.”
Plumtree praised the performance of his back row, saying they all contributed to the win in various ways on the night. He highlighted Jacobson’s all-round performance as a notable one.
“I thought Akira [Ioane] was strong with his ball-carrying around the edges of the rucks. Got us momentum at crucial parts of the game,” Plumtree said.
“I thought Luke Jacobson was busy in all parts of the game, great at the lineout, applied pressure in the lineout as well, defensively, and then he did his fair share of ball-carrying and tackling as well so I thought Luke had a pretty good all-round game.
“And Ardie, first game back for a while. He was a little bit rusty in some parts but when he got the ball in his hand, he shows what he can do, and then put in a couple of great hits as well so it was good to have him back in there.”
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