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'We're hoping that doesn't happen this week': Kick-happy NZ address tactics

By Tom Vinicombe
Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz

Assistant coach John Plumtree has acknowledged that the All Blacks‘ kicking wasn’t quite as effective as it needed to be against Ireland over the weekend but some adjustments to other areas of the game will indirectly fix those issues heading into this Saturday’s clash with France.

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The All Blacks struggled to break through a dogged Irish defence in Dublin with their ball-carriers constantly hounded in the tackle and forced back behind the gain-line.

When things weren’t going the All Blacks’ way – which was the case throughout most of the match – players would often put boot to ball, handing possession and attacking opportunities back to Ireland. Come the end of the match, it wasn’t a huge surprise that New Zealand finished with just 39 per cent possession while territory stats were even less in NZ’s favour, given the sometimes less than savoury quality of the kicks in question.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

According to Plumtree, however, the kicking wasn’t part of the gameplan, and more a product of things not going to plan for the All Blacks elsewhere.

“The basic principle of the game is you need momentum,” he said during the week. “Gain line’s a big thing, and we didn’t get the gain line that we needed as a group, so when we reviewed the performance, it was pretty clear that we didn’t get the momentum that we needed in the game for our attack to function as well as we wanted to.

“When the drivers don’t get momentum, then they’ll look to the air, so we’re hoping that doesn’t happen this week. We’ve got to get our game going forward, so we’ll go back to some things that we’re good at that we went away from last week, and I guess, in a nutshell, that’s been our focus the last couple of days.”

The All Blacks hadn’t struggled with getting over the advantage line until they came up against the Springboks in the Rugby Championship, who managed to suffocate the NZ attack. Plumtree explained that the rush defence used by Ireland – and other teams in the Northern Hemisphere – had created a new challenge for the All Blacks.

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“Most of the teams you play against over here in this part of the world are always going to come forward pretty hard. Obviously, we’ve got to go forward harder,” he said.

“How you launch from set-piece, where you get to from set-piece, helps for your next phase so it’s really important that we get our first couple of phases right so that we can get going. If you get caught behind the gain line early, it’s always going to be a little bit more difficult. Again, that’s the basic principles of the game, really.

“So it’s up to the forwards to make sure that our set-piece functions, and whatever we do from that, we get momentum and that we can get going. We know we’ve got some really good ball-runners in this team, some strong boys, but it’s always a little bit harder when you get caught behind the gain line. That’s probably been our big focus this week.”

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While head coach Ian Foster suggested after the match that the onus fell on the backline to get the attack functioning and not needlessly give away possession, Plumtree reaffirmed that team-wide improvements were expected ahead of this weekend’s clash with France in Paris.

“The backs complement the forwards, and the forwards complement the backs,” he said. “Our job, as a pack, is to make sure that we get ball and then we get momentum.

“If we can get across the gain line, then our backs can come into play, so the opportunities that the backs got, if they made errors, yep, okay, we’ll accept that, but it’s a team game, and we, as a team, didn’t perform well enough.

“We’ve identified the areas that we need to improve on. That was a big part of the review, and we’ve got to fix those parts up so that we can get our game going because, if we can get our game going, we know what a good side we are, but the weekend past, that just never happened.”

This Saturday’s match between the All Blacks and France marks the final test for both teams for 2021. New Zealand have lost just two of their 14 games played to date while France have six victories and four losses to their name.

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