Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Loss motivator for rebuild

All Blacks team and coaches in reflective mood as they head into end-of-year break.

A galling end-of-year All Blacks defeat persuaded Andrew Mehrtens to use that scoreline as his bank card number, guaranteeing ugly flashbacks to go with his bank withdrawals.

Not many All Blacks will forget the result or the manner of their 38-21 loss at Twickenham to England. They were whacked on the scoreboard and thumped all around the park.

It sent the All Blacks away in reflective mood on a variety of business duties in Europe as they pushed through a few more days of work before they could call it quits.

As they recall their year, they will wonder about the loss to England, think about where they were dusted and apportion ideas about the loss to various elements of their work.

They will factor in some intrusive glitch from the norovirus which afflicted them during the buildup and think about how or if they have to alter their plans after being bullied by England.

The All Blacks sparked into life in June with an opening 42-10 win against Ireland and aside from a wobble in the next match and a stalemate with the Wallabies in Brisbane, they were impressive.

Dispatching the Springboks, Pumas, Wallabies, Scotland, Italy and Wales around stacks of travel was a resilient effort. It is time now for the squad to use their downtime wisely, to stay physically tuned but give themselves a break before next year's Super rugby campaigns.

The coaching group will also unpick their ideas and assess their squad for a year which starts with a three-test series against France.

They will look for more evidence from men such as Zac Guildford, Hosea Gear, Tamati Ellison, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Piri Weepu, Adam Thomson, Liam Messam, Victor Vito, Ali Williams, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot and Dane Coles that they remain All Blacks material.

Ageing teammates like Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock and Conrad Smith will get just as close scrutiny as the selectors project a broad outline on a 2015 World Cup selection strategy.

Some like Richard Kahui and Anthony Boric who are threatening to return after injury, will go into the mix. So, too, many new faces like Tom Taylor who was a late addition on this trip.

The panel will be asking whether their broad game plan works as well north of the equator against teams who are improving their skills and fitness to go with their undoubted size.

If so, where do they tweak it, how do they take it to the next level?

Memo Santa Claus. Pop any ideas down Steve Hansen's chimney.

- NZ Herald

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