Sean Fitzpatrick 's Opinion

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean Fitzpatrick: Only a clean sweep will do

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Aaron Smith has added spark to the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Smith has added spark to the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images

Nothing less than four wins from four tests will be satisfactory for this All Black team in Europe. Anything else would be a failure.

I think it will happen - I'd be highly surprised if, in four weeks, we are not talking about four good wins.

Regular readers of this column will know my thoughts on rotation and putting out the best team whenever you can.

But this All Black team is a little different. This team is maturing fast and that is evident from what we can see on the field - things like their on-field decision-making. They are now a very, very confident team.

Never mind the 18-18 draw with Australia which - as I said last time - was probably a case of saying all the right things but not actually turning up on the day. They have clearly learned from that and will look to demonstrate that.

They are a different team from 12 months ago - a better team. That's come about because Steve Hansen and the selectors have injected a lot of young guys.

Like Aaron Smith at halfback.

There was a decision made that they needed to get the backs moving better and that has paid dividends - and that's just one example.

I think the players are really enjoying the new coaching regime and, in terms of the style of rugby they are trying to play, they are opting to pursue some difficult goals; the never-ending quest to get better, as Hansen put it; the 'perfect game' and all that.

It's really encouraging to see and makes you feel this team can go on to great things. You can see the maturing and the inter-changeability of this team in the Sonny Bill Williams/Ma'a Nonu switch. The first has gone and the other has come in - and it has made little discernible difference. It's like, for example, replacing Michael Jones with Zinzan Brooke in the 1987 team.

These guys are doing this on a wider platform and, in the context of this maturing, highly confident and goal-oriented team, some rotation is acceptable and even inevitable. I still do not think we should mess around too much with the "best team" concept and, if you look at how Hansen and Co have played it (even down to the substitutes they have used during test matches), they obviously think that way too.

But the great teams have the ability to be great even with individual changes in the line-up and I don't think it is talking this side up too much to say that is where they seem to be heading.

However, rotated or not, they will still have to back that up with good results. Helping them out will be the pressure the northern teams will be under with a vast schedule of test rugby and the fact that this month's series of matches determine the seedings for next month's draw for the 2015 World Cup in England.

I appreciate there is a lot of planning and other factors to be taken into account but a lot can happen in two-and-a-half years. However, this all works for the All Blacks. They are clearly ranked one, Australia two, South Africa three and England four - but England are only .06 of a ranking point ahead of France.

The top four rankings avoid each other in the World Cup until the knockout stages, while the top eight (Wales are sixth, Ireland seventh and Argentina eighth) can avoid being put into a so-called 'group of death' with some heavy hitters.

The way the rankings work is that they benefit most a team who beat opponents ranked above them. So there is a lot to play for and little chance of an easy outing. That means Wales and England will have been through some tough fixtures by the time they meet the All Blacks.

Wales play Argentina this weekend, then Samoa, then New Zealand, then Australia. England kick off against Fiji and then play Australia, South Africa and then the All Blacks.

The French can put real pressure on England if they beat Australia this weekend and Wales could climb above the French if the Wallabies win and the Welsh can see off Argentina - which is far from certain.

- Herald on Sunday

Sean Fitzpatrick

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick remains one of the greatest rugby players to have graced the game and one of the All Blacks’ most celebrated captains. Throughout his stellar he played 128 matches from 1986 up until his retirement in 1998. His 11 years of captaincy were heralded as some of the most prolific in All Blacks history, including captaining the team to their first ever series win against the Springboks in South Africa in 1996 – a record achievement in its own right.

Read more by Sean Fitzpatrick

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