Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: ABs want to plateau at their peak

Captain Richie McCaw agrees the greatest challenge in sport is eliminating those fluctuations and that the mark of a truly great side is to produce intense, dynamic performances consistently. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Captain Richie McCaw agrees the greatest challenge in sport is eliminating those fluctuations and that the mark of a truly great side is to produce intense, dynamic performances consistently. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Conscious of how their performance has peaked and troughed so far in 2014, the All Blacks are determined to not become a boom and bust team.

Awful at Eden Park in their opening test of the year, they bounced back in Dunedin with an improved effort. Brilliant in Hamilton the following week, they were awful again in Sydney only to respond with another brilliant performance at Eden Park on Saturday.

It's a pattern they don't want to continue. The challenge they have set themselves is to be able to consistently back-up good performances with good performances. That was the key to their perfect season in 2013 - throughout the Rugby Championship they performed at or close to their potential.

Random spikes and falls in the performance graph have become a major bug-bear for both coach Steve Hansen and captain Richie McCaw. When the former took over as head coach he challenged the senior players to see that as something they had to tackle head on.
McCaw was in full agreement as he too is adamant the greatest challenge in sport is eliminating those fluctuations: that the mark of a truly great side; of truly great athletes and leaders, is to be able to consistently produce intense, dynamic performances.

"We can't leave it to the coaches to give us the kick up the arse to et that sort of performance out," was hooker Dane Coles' succinct observation about future motivation.

The hunger and energy shown by the All Black pack was a direct result of them having spent the week under the most intense scrutiny. Much of that scrutiny was applied by the players themselves, but plenty came from the coaches, too.

Hansen is renowned in the camp for being relaxed, dry and good natured. But he also knows when to flick the switch and be direct, clear and unambiguous in his communication..

The players could sense the difference in mood ahead of the Auckland clash and from head coach down, there was clear messaging that improvement was non-negotiable.

That process began on the Monday with a full review of the test. "It was everyone," said Beauden Barrett in regard to who was applying the pressure within the camp. "We knew it [Sydney] wasn't good enough and we have to be responsible for that.

"We expect to win in this black jersey and it was disappointing to come off with a draw.
When it comes to that review - it is an hour and a half long and anyone can be called out and be held accountable even if you are not playing. That is just how this team rolls."

With a week off before playing the Pumas, the All Blacks will be back in camp by Sunday and aware of the growing threat Argentina present.

Neither the coaching staff nor skipper will accept an All Black performance that doesn't carry the same intensity and ambition as the one produced at Eden Park.

- NZ Herald

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