Richard Loe on rugby

Richard Loe is a former All Black

Richard Loe: ABs improved, now if they can finish off

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Someone asked what I thought about Dan Carter's tackle against Wales the other day.

"Dirty bastard," I said. "Should have been banned for six months."

That was a joke, for those of you a little unsure. My real feelings are that it was a perfectly good tackle, high but fair. I agree with Dean Lonergan who said teachers up and down the land should be teaching kids how to do that - as it stopped a promising move.

As for those who say Stephen Jones should have been dealt to because he kicked Brendon Leonard in the head, well, if Leonard wants to put his head where the ball is, there will be mishaps at times.

Look, people, it's a physical game and we can get too precious about it sometimes.

That aside, I have to say I was quite pleased with the All Black performance against Wales. They won, they dominated but they didn't finish them off.

I had a chat to Jimmy Hore, father of Andrew, last week at the local A&P show and he said what every heartland rugby person would say after that match - the All Blacks did okay but have to learn to finish opponents off.

The consensus among those I have spoken to is that the team have improved - and that Henry has made a difference coaching the forwards. I think that's right - but I'd also give the players credit. They have lifted themselves and, remember, we are still not exactly sure how much influence the players had in the coaching reshuffle. Whatever their role, they are responding.

I have to take my hat off to two people I have criticised quite a lot in the past. Neemia Tialata fronted again, as he did in the Tokyo test, and I was delighted to see him play 80 minutes - and pretty well too. As Jimmy Hore said: "The big bastard's getting fit." I hope Tialata played 80 minutes again last night, as the fitter he gets, the greater his hunger and effectiveness will be.

Mils Muliaina played one of his best games this season and it intrigued me to see Cory Jane named at fullback against Italy. He's a considerable player, Jane, and being named at 15 will be putting the pressure on Mils.

In fact, nearly all the young players we have seen so far are doing that - Zac Guildford and Owen Franks, to name a couple. That's what this All Black team needs - young, fresh, hungry players putting the pressure on the incumbents. We need to carry that right through to the World Cup.

Having said that, I felt a bit sorry for the players named against Italy. Expectations will be that the All Blacks should win well. But Italy can be awkward, as they showed in New Zealand this season, and if the All Blacks struggle or are untidy, that will end the tour hopes of many in this team.

France, as they showed against South Africa, will be the big obstacle on this tour. The Boks looked a bit ordinary - because the French took them on in the scrums, got numbers to the breakdown and outdid them there.

It will be a big confidence boost to the French as they know the Boks comfortably outpowered their opposition, including the All Blacks, in the Tri Nations. Neither backline got up to much but at least the French tried. They made some bad decisions and mistakes but they showed enough to suggest that, if they get it right, they will be a formidable side.

The best Bok loosie, Heinrich Brussow, seemed to be on his own all the time. Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha battled away but I thought they too seemed not to get much support from the rest of the pack. If the French get their big men to the breakdown in numbers against the All Blacks, life will be difficult.

The French had them when it came to passion and vigour - and that's something the All Blacks will have noted with interest.

- Herald on Sunday

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