All Blacks: Naive team runs out of ideas

By Wynne Gray

Like the infamous Rumble in the Jungle in 1974, the All Blacks have painted themselves as the George Foreman of the rugby world, exhausted and wearied by their attacking efforts before the Wallabies sauntered in and maimed them with Muhammed Ali knockout blows.

That analogy was pursued yesterday by assistant coach Steve Hansen as he sought to explain some of the All Blacks tactical naivety on Saturday in their opening 34-19 Bledisloe Cup defeat in Sydney. It was a plausible theory but these are the days of constant coaching communication during a test, when sideline runners deliver instructions at every injury or imagined stoppage during a test.

The All Blacks had also been in the sheds at halftime but continued to pursue their all-out attacking policy while the Wallabies were far more circumspect, far more Crusader-like under new coach Robbie Deans, kicking for space and territory before they attempted much elan.

"One thing evident to me was maybe it was an advantage having eight players who hadn't played the All Blacks previously because coming in with no baggage and no background of failure, they simply aspired," Deans said.

He expected a furious All Black backlash this Saturday at Eden Park with signs there will be minimal change for either team. Rival captains Richie McCaw and Stirling Mortlock will probably return, Hugh McMenamin will likely replace the injured Rocky Elsom while the All Blacks will ponder their choices at halfback, midfield and wing.

"They would have hated that experience," Deans said after his unbeaten Wallaby sequence continued. "They will be hurting and they will be looking for someone to pay and it is more likely to be me than you."

The All Blacks believe they will have McCaw back to help try to stem the two-test slide. He trained well last week until he got a bang on his damaged ankle and had to curtail his attempt to play in Sydney.

"The fact is we are an inexperienced group and we have fought hard to get back and lead in two tests matches [Dunedin and Sydney] we have been behind in and shown a lot of composure and a lot of heart and desire to get back in front and then maybe when we have done that we might have mentally relaxed," said Hansen.

"But that's a learning curve and that's what happens when you have a young side. But at the same time we started to make a lot of errors too, like our handling in that last 20 minutes was abysmal and we turned over the football."

Hansen said the All Blacks played most of the rugby and the Wallabies just kicked their mistakes back at them, it was a game plan which worked and had to be acknowledged. The All Blacks were struggling to find a game plan to make the most of the new laws, they also had to get more miles into their inexperienced side.

The key towards success at Eden Park was to make sure they did not panic this week, that they did not react to the external pressures and that the coaching staff guided the side well.

Hansen was sure the Sydney selections were right and they would have learned a great deal from the defeat.

"We tried to play all the rugby and ran out of petrol."

It was the same for Foreman in Zaire 34 years ago in his famous fight with Ali. He never got a rematch - at least the All Blacks will.

- NZ Herald

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