Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: World Cup vision only basic

An admission from the All Blacks that they have a vision of how they want to play at the next World Cup will have the northern hemisphere sides searching for clues on what that style might be.

No doubt, as usual, they won't see the wood for the trees when they do their analysis. The Six Nations are so convinced that the All Blacks are rugby sorcerers, in possession of some kind of magic potion, that they just don't get it. What sets the All Blacks apart, what makes them the best side in the world and what allows them to win so many games, is their immaculate execution of the basic skills.

That's it - that's their magic formula and that is the foundation of their 2015 World Cup vision. The All Blacks, whether consciously or not, are subscribers to the 10,000 hour theory; the notion that excellence is achieved by relentless practice rather than innate or genetic advantage.

Put the All Blacks under pressure and they continue to execute the basics well enough to create space. Put the likes of England, Scotland, Wales and even France under the same kind of pressure - and mistakes kick in, opportunities close and the moment is lost.

That much was obvious from the All Blacks' clash with Scotland. While the Scots were industrious and physical at Murrayfield, they didn't have the crispness of passing or the depth of attack to exploit the momentum they had created.

Under pressure, their basic skills collapsed. The half-chances that must be taken at this level, went begging. That was pretty much the story of the test: in all the areas of confrontation and attrition, the Scots could compete, hold their own. When it came to using the ball, creating space and exploiting it, they came unstuck.

It's inconceivable that the same won't have happened in Rome overnight. The Italians, as has been laboured all week, are Europe's leading set piece side. They are crunchy and gnarled and the contest facing the All Blacks was severe. But it's a one-dimensional threat whereas the All Blacks are multi-dimensional - everything underpinned by their high quality basic skills.

"Invariably, as coaches, you play a style of game that suits the type of people you have in your team," said All Black coach Steve Hansen in trying to explain his 2015 World Cup vision. "We are lucky that we have natural athletes and very skilled athletes. But we work very hard at that - our forwards are multi-skilled and our game in New Zealand, right from the clubs, encourages that, so if you don't have that type of player you can't really play the type of game we are trying to play.

"We haven't perfected our game; we have just started this year. We have only had 12 opportunities and you don't get it right straight away. It might take us a couple of years to get it really nailed but what we have seen so far tells us it is worth persevering with. We have a vision of where we would like to see ourselves as a team; we are very clear what that it is."

That vision is best summarised by saying the All Blacks want to be fitter, faster, stronger and more skilled than every other team. If those pillars are in place, then the illusion can be created that they thrive on intricate moves, clever ploys and tactical genius. They really don't - as can be evidenced in the way they train.

In their first training run in Rome, there was consternation among management that an enormous crowd had gathered and were finally let in to watch the closing stages of the session. Paranoia always prevails around spying, but what would anyone from the Italian camp have learned from being present through the whole session?

They would have seen the backline spend the better part of an hour calling spontaneous basic moves - cuts, loops and miss passes. It was hypnotic - the handling was immaculate; not a single pass was dropped; not a single dud was thrown.

Even the great Beegee Williams, on the sidelines in his capacity as NZRU president, was moved to comment on the relentless excellence. Hansen is not going to reinvent the wheel but he won't mind if the Six Nations and everyone else is tying themselves up in knots thinking he is.

The World Cup vision is this: highly conditioned athletes, playing at a high tempo, using the basics to do the hard work and reaping the rewards.

- Herald on Sunday

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