Sean Fitzpatrick: Much to be learned from French lesson

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Last weekend we saw an All Black performance against the French that raised a few eyebrows in the UK and questions about New Zealand rugby in general, and the test side in particular.

Les Bleus turned up and did a job on us, and it made uncomfortable viewing. The first 20 minutes in particular were not great.

So what did we learn? There certainly seemed to be a gulf of class for periods in terms of intensity, confidence and clarity of purpose. I don't doubt the abilities of our players - even the new boys who have taken a hammering are good footballers - but making the step up from Super 14 to test rugby was clearly a big jump.

It was apparent to me the playing environment from which the players had come just hadn't equipped them to hit the ground running, to perform at the required standard right from the off in this tighter, more physical type of game.

The French boys quickly reminded us that forward intensity is at the heart of test rugby (a message to our tight five in particular) and we couldn't live with them. It begs the question of whether Super 14 is delivering the type of game we need for our national side to succeed.

I can also imagine that playing to a different set of rules must be hard - it took me years to get to grips with just the one set of laws!

Test rugby is full of split-second decisions and instantaneous judgement calls that separate winning and losing. Having to think about things must take the edge off how you play. Instead of it being instinctive, I imagine you need to check yourself and continuously edit your decisions. Not easy when some big Gaul is breathing down your neck.

By having to adapt to the law differences, did our boys mentally have the brakes on?

Regarding preparation and the impact of the coaching team, I will keep saying that in Graham Henry we have a good man. Certainly he and his staff will have looked to see where and how they could get the team playing to the level they need to be at for this weekend.

Remember, too, that in the past year we have slammed the British home unions, walloping them up front, and beaten pretty much everyone else, including South Africa and Australia. We have good players and good coaches. Remember the team were 17-3 down and got back to level pegging - that showed good spirit as well as ability.

This match will have given some of the new talent serious international ball time, and lots to think about individually.

With six or seven of our world class players out, our shortcomings were exposed, but you have to back those guys who struggled last week to make improvements that will put them in better shape in their next match.

They've been blooded, and now they need to step up. Perhaps it is no bad thing for them to have to deal with the on- and off-field pressure that comes with losing as an All Black - if they can handle it, use it, and learn from it.

We will see who has what it takes to secure a place alongside the core group of players and, equally importantly, those who can't. Better now than later.

It was far from doom and gloom. Yes, we were beaten but as long as we learn from the experience and look honestly and critically at resolving the issues that led to it, then we are setting a solid platform for 2011.

I trust this group of players and coaches to identify and rectify the specific playing issues in pretty short order. This was written before last night's match but I would have bet my bottom dollar that a different All Black team turned out.

There is a lot of pride in that squad of players, and they understand what is at stake. They have been hurt and embarrassed and they'll step up their game, improve dramatically, and win.

The wider question of our domestic game? Well, that is a much bigger issue to chew on, and one for another day.

- Herald on Sunday

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