'We're a scary beast': All Blacks star's Bledisloe Cup warning
The All Blacks emerged 33-25 victors at Eden Park on Saturday, but the scoreline shouldn’t have been as close as it was given the hosts led the visitors 33-8 with 12 minutes to play.
A lacklustre finish, which saw the All Blacks leak three tries, and a sloppy opening half an hour marred a win that gives the Kiwis a leg up in their quest to retain the Bledisloe Cup for a 19th consecutive year.
While there were signs of promise in between the sloppy start and ill-disciplined finish, most notably Sevu Reece’s disallowed wonder try, Papalii, who started at openside flanker, said his side’s opening and closing efforts were unacceptable.
“To be honest, that’s not All Black rugby that we played out there in those last 20 minutes,” Papalii told media on Tuesday.
“We pride ourselves on playing the whole 80-plus, and that last 20 minutes might have got in our minds that we thought we’ve won the game, but then they came back and we started giving away stupid penalties.
“The game hasn’t changed. We’ve just got to be hard on ourselves and be more disciplined, and that’s a thing we’re really touching on this week.”
In total, the All Blacks conceded 19 penalties throughout the course of the match, and many of those infringements came late on in the piece as New Zealand’s impact players were injected into the game off the bench.
Weber was among the replacement players who entered the fray midway through the second half, and he suggested a sense of excitement playing for the first time in three weeks overwhelmed his side.
The 30-year-old halfback said it wasn’t until head coach Ian Foster delivered a “rark up” at half-time that things began to fall into place early in the second half.
“After a couple weeks off, the boys were bloody keen to throw the ball around a little bit, whereas we probably needed to roll our sleeves up a bit first before trying to take on those opportunities that perhaps we saw,” Weber said.
“It wasn’t until we had a bit of a rark up that we started seeing a lot of those things. I think that’s the key to the first quarter of the second half.”
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Despite New Zealand’s flaws, which have become the key talking points in the post-mortem of their victory, Weber said there were still plenty of positives to take from the match.
“You clearly saw the willingness to throw the ball around and play what we see in front of us, which is the way we want to play,” he said.
“That disallowed try, I think, probably speaks volumes of that. If we’re seeing those opportunities from inside our own 22, we’re ready to have a crack, so I think our attacking prowess is there, we just need to be a bit more accurate in that space.
“I think we’re all pretty happy there. It’s probably just defensively, tidy up a few things, and hopefully we’ll see a bit more attack.”
Papalii, meanwhile, is eager to get more involved in this week’s re-match in Auckland, even though he topped the tackle count alongside Wallabies hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa with 15 tackles apiece.
“We’re taught to play what’s in front and I think we tried that, but we were just trying a bit too much. We need to stick to our basics and stick to our system, which I think we sort of went away from,” he said.
“But, as you see, when we roll our sleeves up, we get direct, we can really do some damage, but we’ve just got to stick to that and really trust our game-drivers.”
Do that, and much-needed improvements will follow. According to Weber, the All Blacks remain a long way off their peak, but the 10-test international promises his side could become a frightening prospect over the coming months.
“We’re nowhere near the finished product. We’re only one test into the Rugby Championship, so we keep building and growing our game like we’re sort of planning to, hopefully we’re a scary beast by the end.”
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