Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Unsung heroes with a plan

Aaron Smith in action at Eden Park. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Aaron Smith in action at Eden Park. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It is time to give a bit of credit to the unsung heroes of Saturday night's outstanding victory - Steve Hansen, Ian Foster, Mike Cron, Mick Byrne and Nic Gill.

A performance like that does not come out of nowhere; it comes off the back of a perfect week's preparation and an incredible base of power and fitness. When the All Blacks play with that sort of speed and tempo, no team in the world can live with them. Not even a Wallaby team that defends well and is getting more aggressive.

For that, you have to admire the All Blacks' conditioning under Gill.

Then there's the game planning, particularly in attack. It was fantastic to see them going back to the breakdown system I discussed in Friday's Chalkboard column. They were getting width directly from the breakdown, using tight forwards at first receiver and working myriad options off them.

Honestly, there were times when it looked like the All Blacks had 15 backs on the field, such was the outstanding handling skills of the likes of Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett and Dane Coles, who plays like a loosie anyway.

When they are accurate, like they were at Eden Park, it adds a dimension to New Zealand's attack nobody can match.

That was a quality game plan that Hansen and Foster conjured up.

The set piece was dominant. I normally find it hard to get excited about scrums but the two leading up the penalty try were hugely impressive. That was vintage, old-school All Black scrummaging, taking advantage of Australia having a man down. Cron's reputation for being the best in the business is obviously well founded.

Richie McCaw scored two tries off lineout drives, so you'd have to say that part of their game is in great working order. That's especially pleasing because the lineout drive has not been a big part of the All Blacks' modern armoury, so it shows they're always looking to add facets to their overall game.

The players would not have been happy about Sydney last week, but neither would the coaches. They would have been asking themselves tough questions about what they did wrong in the lead-up to the match. They've responded with a brilliant, total rugby game plan and deserve plaudits for it.

I was asked why it took a poor match to get performance like this. All I can say with any confidence is it is the fluctuations of sport.

To my mind, the All Blacks are the most successful sporting franchise on Earth. They don't often get it wrong.

Last week was one they got wrong, but Australia were not good enough to win. Ireland last year was another, but they weren't quite good enough either.

The All Blacks are good at staying in games they should be beaten in. They should be admired for that. They're not going to able to be as good as Saturday every time they play, but when they are off their game, they'll find a way to stay in it; when they're on, they're near unstoppable.

Finally, there were too many heroes on the field to name them all, but I have to single out Aaron Smith, who took his game to another level.

Everything about his game was on point. He ran early and effectively. Under the tutelage of Byrne, he has developed a fine kicking game. The swiftness and crispness of his passing was so impressive.

He and Aaron Cruden have a nice thing going. When Smith runs well, it allows Cruden that extra time and space because Smith is holding defenders. They seem to be in sync with each other; they know when one another is looking to change angles, sit deeper or shift the point of attack.

I now look at Smith as being as crucial a cog in this team as Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock. He, like them, is a player we would not like to be injured as at the moment no one in the country is at his level.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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