The All Blacks story of the last five years or so has tended to follow the same plot in big tests, where they battle away for 80 minutes, emerging as victors on the back of their superior ability to execute the basic skills.

Test football has developed to the point where a blanket can be thrown over the top teams in terms of their set-piece ability, fitness and collision work, and the difference so often - what separates the All Blacks - is their higher skill level to execute pass and catch at critical times.

How many times since 2012 have opposition coaches lamented the fact that their side didn't have the same skill level as the All Blacks? How many times has a killer pass, or creative offload been the thing that wins it for the All Blacks?

It has become routine for the All Blacks to leave everyone in awe of their skill level, which is why it was a surprise to see them struggle in that area against the British & Irish Lions.


For the first time since 2011, the All Blacks didn't have the magical touch they needed.

There were times, particularly in the third test, when their execution was ordinary and the miracle moment never came.

They made the half gaps, found the space but the pass didn't stick. The hands weren't good, the timing not quite right and the chance lost.

These things obviously matter in tests of that magnitude where there is so little between the teams in every other facet.

"Our skill set didn't stand up under's normally a very good part of our game," All Blacks selector Grant Fox lamented to Radio Sport. "We have to address perhaps doing more skill work than we've been doing."

By highlighting the need for a greater emphasis to be placed on skill work, there was perhaps within that a tacit admission that the All Blacks have missed the influence of Mick Byrne who moved on after the 2015 World Cup.

Byrne was the All Blacks specialist skills coach from 2005 and he was instrumental in lifting the accuracy and breadth of skills within the squad.

A former Australian Rules player, he brought new and innovative ideas about kicking, aerial work and catching to the extent that the All Blacks became world leaders in all of those fields.

But he shifted back to his native Australia in 2016 for family reasons and not surprisingly was persuaded to join the Wallabies set-up in the same role he had held with the All Blacks.

And that makes life intriguing ahead of the Bledisloe Cup. Now the All Blacks have to find a way to sharpen their work and improve their execution.

Responsibility for that will fall on the shoulders of Ian Foster and Wayne Smith, the two assistants having picked up the work Byrne had been doing.

It will be a test of the All Blacks coaching team's ability to successfully prioritise what they need to do ahead of the first test in Sydney on August 19. Can they bring the skill level back to the boil and instil in their side the confidence and sharpness they will need to express themselves against the Wallabies?

And, conversely, what effect will Byrne have had in the other camp? He's been with the Wallabies for more than a year and they have also had the luxury of being in training for an extended period due to their teams not being involved in the Super Rugby playoffs beyond the last eight.

Just as the All Blacks saw their skill-sets broaden and improve under Byrne, surely the Wallabies will undergo a similar journey? It has been a missing piece on their game these last few years but there is an expectation that Byrne can make some rapid improvements for them.

The All Blacks have to believe that they will encounter a Wallabies side that will show in Sydney an improved ability to play with the ball and convert half chances through creative execution.

It could be a classic battle of skills, with no feel at this stage as to who will emerge as the winner.