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Where the All Blacks must improve for rematch against Springboks

By Alex McLeod

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If the All Blacks are to do the double over the Springboks and complete a rare Rugby Championship Grand Slam, they will need to produce a vastly improved effort on the Gold Coast this weekend.

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That’s the verdict from head coach Ian Foster, who wasn’t impressed by some aspects of last week’s tense 19-17 victory over the South Africans in Brisbane last Saturday.

Although the Kiwis dug deep to snatch a win via the boot of Jordie Barrett late in the piece in Townsville, it didn’t make for pretty viewing as the All Blacks were guilty of a multitude of handling errors and set piece mishaps that stifled their attacking ability.

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Jordie Barrett gave the All Blacks backfield confidence with his performance | Healthspan Elite Performance of the Week
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Jordie Barrett gave the All Blacks backfield confidence with his performance | Healthspan Elite Performance of the Week

That – combined with the disruption of the Springboks’ forwards up front, their backs’ incessant aerial bombardment and the continual stoppages in play to tend to South African injuries – wreaked havoc with New Zealand’s continuity with ball in hand.

While the latter facet of South Africa’s game is largely out of the All Blacks’ control, Foster made it clear while speaking to media on Thursday that his side need to front up in the other areas where they struggled as they spluttered to victory six days ago.

Perhaps the most pressing concern was the sheer number of turnovers they conceded, many of which came from spillages that plagued the Kiwis in their opening few phases of attack.

“I think when you reflect on the game, I’m not so sure it was the rush defence,” Foster said of the reasoning behind his side’s attacking woes at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

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“We just forced a couple of plays early in the phases and came up with some uncharacteristic handling errors and, also, we weren’t that good, I think, as a backline, at looking after the ball in the tackle situation.

“We missed a couple of cleans and it was an area that we didn’t do that well [in], particularly in the wider channels, so we’ve got to get better at that.

“One way to play the game properly is to make sure we hold onto the ball and really back our skill execution. There’s been a focus on that and we’ve got to get better.”

Last week’s wings, George Bridge and Will Jordan, have both suffered the consequences of their subpar efforts with ball in hand as they have been dropped from the side and replaced in the No 11 and No 14 jerseys by Rieko Ioane and Sevu Reece.

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Despite scoring a scintillating opening try, Jordan was far from his mercurial best as he lost the ball more than he would have liked.

Bridge, meanwhile, was the victim of a high-profile error that allowed Springboks wing Sbu Nkosi to score his side’s only try as part of a shaky display that did little to solidify his place in the first-choice All Blacks team.

Foster said the omission of those players, a decision that has partly been made due to Anton Lienert-Brown’s return from injury, has sent a strong message to the rest of the squad.

“In the back three, it’s been great to be able to bring Anton back from his hamstring [injury] so restoring him to centre and Sevu and Rieko go on the wing, [which] clearly was an area we felt we needed to improve from last week and they’ve got a real focus on that,” he said.

“I think Sevu’s played really well for us. Rieko’s gone well too and I think our back three perhaps weren’t at the level that we needed them to be last week. Clearly a message has been sent.”

Similarly, improvements need to be made in the forward pack, where turnovers at the set piece were common theme in northern Queensland.

Foster acknowledged that part of the game is an area of strength for the Springboks, and he has planned to negate that by formulating a plan to deal with the threats they pose.

However, he implored the All Blacks to make adjustments where necessary throughout the course of the game in order to combat South Africa’s forward pack, something they didn’t do last week.

“I think our desire is really good. I think the players have really identified a few areas that we want to tidy up and worked hard on that this week,” Foster said of his forwards.

“We’ve still got 48 hours to go so there’s a bit of work still to be done, but part of the issue is to make sure you diagnose the problems clearly first and I think we’ve done that.

“It’s partly acknowledging that some of that is things that we can control, but some of it is things that South Africa do very, very well and acknowledging that you’re not going to win every moment against a really good, top-quality team.

“But, what we can’t do is we can’t back up bad moment after bad moment after bad moment.

“We’ve got to make the adjustments as we go through a game, so largely it’ll be learning what’s in front of us, doing our plan and then making the adjustments on our depth and width when things are a little bit different to what we expected.”

The identification of New Zealand’s shortcomings was also touched on by All Blacks defence coach Scott McLeod earlier in the week.

He told reporters on Tuesday that one of the most disappointing aspects of last week’s clash was his side’s inability to exploit space against South Africa’s rush defence, whether that be out wide or in the backfield.

“There’s two things the Boks brought in spades,” McLeod said.

“Their collision, so their hunting ability to pressure our ruck and our ball, and they took a lot of it, so we weren’t happy with our cleanouts and ball carries, so we’ve addressed that.

“Also, their line speed does put us under pressure a little bit, but, in saying that, in any defensive situation, there’s always space somewhere, and our ability to see that space wasn’t good enough and we need to see that a lot earlier.

“We created the opportunity but we needed to see where that space is earlier so we can get the ball there.

“The players have now seen that on tape, but we can’t have another review looking at it on tape. We need to see it on the ground, so that’s the improvement we want to see.”

In order to exploit that space, McLeod said variation of distribution will be key to the All Blacks’ success, as will their multi-faceted threat of running, passing and kicking.

“With the ball in hand, we need to be able to hold a little bit more depth and get the ball into that space, shorter passing rather than big loopy ones, but also the triple threat with the boot as well.

“Their wingers like to come in hard and we left men out in the channel unmarked, so we’ve got to be able to pass the ball there and kick the ball there.”

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Where the All Blacks must improve for rematch against Springboks

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