Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Defeat causes rethink on extra game

The comprehensive loss has the All Blacks rethinking their 2013 tour make-up.

England's Chris Ashton sails through the air as he scores during the final All Blacks match of the 2012 Northern Hemisphere tour Photo / Getty Images
England's Chris Ashton sails through the air as he scores during the final All Blacks match of the 2012 Northern Hemisphere tour Photo / Getty Images

Defeat to England is likely to cause a rethink on many aspects of the All Blacks season in 2013, not the least of which is the number of games they play.

In the days leading up to the Twickenham encounter, New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew was exploring options to play a fourth game on next year's November tour.

The All Blacks are slated to play Ireland, England and France but were considering adding a game - as they have done since 2005 - outside the official window. The arrival of AIG as a second key sponsor has reduced the financial imperative for these revenue-raising fixtures: For the immediate future, extra games will be sought only if the coaching panel asks for them.

Before the test in London, it is believed All Black coach Steve Hansen was interested in adding a game - possibly a clash against the Barbarians. That would have provided competitive opposition and a chance to blood some young players in an intense game that wasn't a test.

Tew was also in tentative talks with the Welsh Rugby Union about a full test in Cardiff, as the two unions have a long-standing agreement about looking to play additional fixtures.

Certainly one of those games was a contender to be finalised until the All Blacks were so comprehensively defeated at Twickenham.

The idea of an extra game in 2013 lost much of its appeal in the immediate aftermath of the 38-21 loss. That test was the All Blacks' 14th in six months and they played like a team that had run out of the necessary physical and mental energy to be at their best.

It was, classically, a game too far and now the desire to play that extra game next year has cooled significantly.

An extra game may still happen but it is more likely that a non-test would be preferred.

What the final game of this year showed is how vulnerable even good sides like the All Blacks are when they are asked to take on such a demanding schedule.

The top Northern Hemisphere sides played 11 or 12 tests in the calendar year - but their international season begins in February and ends in late November. Their season comes in bursts - the Six Nations in February-March, the June tests and the November tests.

The All Blacks played their 14 tests in a 26-week window that also included six rounds of Super Rugby.

They played the last 11 tests in 16 weeks and while they haven't used fatigue as an excuse, there is no doubt that player welfare is the biggest threat to the All Black legacy.

"I think player welfare is the biggest issue we have in the game globally. It is a huge concern for the game," said Hansen.

"Your top players are the guys who are getting thrashed both internationally and at club level.

"What we will probably see more of is people taking sabbaticals unless the IRB show some leadership in this area and sort out a global season."

The All Blacks are locked in to play 13 tests next year. They have a three-test series in June against France, the Rugby Championship, a third Bledisloe encounter in Auckland and then the tour to Europe.

The balance for Hansen to strike is that while a 14th fixture stretches the players to breaking point, exposure to the test arena can be invaluable for young players.

Without genuine midweek fixtures, there are precious few opportunities for coaches to give players international exposure outside of test matches. Any opportunity to allow young, inexperienced players to train or play as All Blacks is critical, says Hansen.

"It is the first time they experience a whole series of factors," says Hansen. "It is the first time they collect their kit. It is the first time they put their jersey on. It is the first time they go out and play.

"How do they deal with it when they play really, really well? How do they deal with all the adulation in the paper? Can they get their preparation right? Some can, some can't.

"How do they deal with things when they don't play so good?"

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