Justin Marshall 's Opinion

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

Justin Marshall: Gripping score, but far from a classic

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Glaring lack of fluency from All Blacks but expect sleeping beast to wake in Dunedin

There has been a lot of talk that Saturday's match was a classic test: a tight, gripping antidote to Super Rugby.

The scoreline was gripping but I don't buy it was "good ol' test match rugby". It was a hard watch, especially from an All Black perspective. There was a glaring lack of fluency.

The most telling statistic of the test was that the All Blacks only once in the first half strung more than five phases together. That was an indication of the mistakes, the inaccuracies, the turnovers. It was very unlike the All Blacks.

As for the game plan, it lacked imagination and - most importantly - accuracy. But before I critique their tactics too much, I should say here that I have some sympathy for them.

I know from experience that the first test of the year is very easy to motivate yourself for, but more difficult to prepare well for.

Motivation is not a problem. You want to prove a point that you're worth your place and there are always a couple of new faces looking to make an immediate impact on the group with their enthusiasm.

But it's a difficult week in other respects. The media protocols suddenly change and there are a lot more demands on your time. The sponsors normally want their pound of flesh in that first week too.

And apart from that peripheral stuff, there is simply an information overload. There are new teammates to gel with, new lineout calls, back moves, phase options, exit strategies, basic calls and new game plans.

Those caveats aside, I don't think the All Blacks' game plan was smart. I said midweek that I thought coach Steve Hansen would go into the first test with maybe a more conservative mind-set and plan, but this was taken to extremes.

There was an obsession with kicking the ball into space, negating any chance they had of playing their way into the game. That was the major disappointment for me - they kicked away so much possession they didn't give themselves an opportunity to find any rhythm.

When the All Blacks' game was breaking down, it was up to the on-field leaders to recognise they needed to have their hands on the ball more, to string some phase-play together, but it didn't happen until it was nearly too late.

Last year the All Blacks worked plays effectively when they used two forwards running together, with the second one either taking the hit up on the advantage line or being used as a decoy to work in behind to the backs. There was no sign of that.

I didn't see them using cutbacks, or using the wings like they can.

In this respect they missed the sheer size and power of Julian Savea, but Ben Smith is still what I would classify as a tackle-breaking player. Whether by accident or design, they couldn't work him into the game. It just seemed that whatever the All Blacks were trying, it wasn't working. It was a funny, frustrating match where it became difficult to pinpoint why it went wrong.

Hansen mentioned the word "energy", or a lack of it, and I think he's right. The English had it in truckloads but the home side seemed to be lacking that spark.

England were the more innovative side, using more variation in the way they tried to break the hosts down.

Had a couple of things gone their way and had they put the finishing touches on a couple of breaks from Chris Robshaw and Kyle Eastmond, they probably would have won.

And there's the thing. When they sat down yesterday to review the match, they'll probably realise they let a golden opportunity slip.

England will likely make several changes that might give them added strength in some positions. Their big problem is immense pressure is now on the regulars who were touted to come in and make a difference.

I don't expect the All Blacks will make many changes, but I expect a wholly different attitude in Dunedin. Expect the beast that was asleep for most of the first test to awaken with some desire come Saturday.

- NZ Herald

Justin Marshall

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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