'We have to be better': All Blacks coach's warning ahead of Ireland test
All Blacks defence coach Scott McLeod has outlined that his side need to produce a far better performance than the one they served against Italy if they are to beat Ireland, and France, over the coming fortnight.
The Kiwis spluttered their way to a 47-9 victory over the Italians at Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Sunday [NZT] in an unconvincing display by a team mostly made up of second-stringers and injury returnees.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster indicated last week that the fixture was a chance for those selected to push their case for inclusion in New Zealand’s season-ending tests against Ireland and France over the next two weekends.
However, it would be difficult to pick out anyone who did that in an error-riddled outing where the All Blacks seemed bereft of any kind of rhythm and were guilty of far too many handling and disciplinary mistakes.
New Zealand’s ugly win was only achieved through set-piece dominance, spearheaded by veteran hooker Dane Coles, and the impact provided by the reserves in the final quarter of the match, during which time the All Blacks piled on 26 points.
While that could be viewed as a minor positive in what was otherwise a frustrating encounter, McLeod attributed his team’s struggles to their inaccuracies with ball in hand, which he said was partly caused by Italy’s suffocating rush defence.
“I think it was a little bit of both,” he told media on Monday [NZT] of those two aspects being key to Italy’s success in stagnating New Zealand’s attacking play for large parts of the test.
“They were quite narrow and tight. They were getting a lot of people into the collision and, by the looks, they were also sending a third person into the breakdown as well, really trying to slow the ball down and make it hard, and then getting more numbers in front of us and then coming again. They did that really well repeatedly.”
For that reason, McLeod praised recently-appointed Italy head coach Kieran Crowley, the former World Cup-winning All Black who worked wonders during his time in charge of Italian United Rugby Championship club Benetton Treviso.
“Kieran has obviously installed a real grit around that and that’s a little bit different from what we’ve seen in the past from them, so I thought they did really well in that aspect.”
In spite of the goodwill thrown Italy’s way following their tougher-than-anticipated showing against the All Blacks, McLeod maintained there is plenty of work for New Zealand to do before they go to work against Ireland this Sunday [NZT].
Although Italy punched above their weight until the All Blacks pulled away with 20 minutes to play, Ireland are expected to present a much sterner challenge at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
The All Blacks are sweating on the fitness of two key players ahead of their penultimate test of the year against Ireland in Dublin this weekend. #AllBlacks #IREvNZL #AutumnNationsSeries https://t.co/3PKT5QVQnh
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 8, 2021
That much was made clear when the Andy Farrell-coached side celebrated experienced playmaker Johnny Sexton’s 100th test appearance with a 60-5 thrashing of the highly-touted Japan over the weekend.
In that match, the Irish showed they can play expansively just as well as they can play conservatively, meaning the All Blacks have a fight on their hands if they want to close out their campaign on a high note.
The All Blacks are, therefore, expected to open the door for their frontline players to return to the starting lineup en masse for Ireland, but McLeod said an overhaul in personnel doesn’t change the fact that lessons must be learned from the win over Italy.
“We feel as though we probably forced things a little bit and expected them just to happen a little bit,” he said.
“It was only small things like over-running something or an offside or not rolling away or dropping the ball or offloading when they shouldn’t have, so it’s just a lot of things that built up.
“Like I say, we probably forced things a little bit, and then we felt that pressure and we probably tried a little bit too hard, again, and it took us a little while to settle down.”
Learning from and fixing those mistakes is crucial for the entire squad – not just those who played at Stadio Olimpico – as, according to McLeod, Italy have laid the blueprint on how to put pressure on the All Blacks for Ireland.
He suggested that France, who the All Blacks will close their season out against in Paris next weekend, will also be aware of this, which elevates the importance of this Sunday’s [NZT] performance being a far polished one compared to what was seen in Rome.
“To see a team put us under pressure in some of those areas, everyone has to learn from that because I’m sure Italy’s just shown Ireland and France a couple of things that maybe they could do, so we have to learn from that and be better this week.”
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