This is the time for the All Blacks to dig deep and for Graham Henry to deliver all his expertise. New Zealand needs Henry to assume the Great Redeemer epithet bestowed on him when he started his international coaching career with Wales.
Here's where Wynne Gray thinks he needs to start:
Pick those who have been in some form rather than others like Joe Rokocoko, Brendon Leonard, Rodney So'oialo and Neemia Tialata the selectors felt needed a turn on the tour of South Africa. The All Blacks should be the summit of test rugby selection rather than being a team where players get a shot from time to time. All the candidates should get in some matchplay in the next few weeks where their skill, enthusiasm and readiness can be judged for Bledisloe II in Sydney.
It would be nice to think this team would be allowed to play what was in front of them, that they were given more licence than they got at Durban. On that evidence, they are either handcuffed in their strategies or unable to interpret games for themselves. Rugby by numbers, that slavish style they demonstrated, shouted out their lack of freedom to react to what the Springboks threw at them. Their work rate in the last two tests has been so ordinary that the coaches and players have to come up with a far more flexible style, once the forwards have dealt to their duties.
It was galling to hear Henry talk about expectations that the All Blacks would lose a few more tests this season. That gives the players and coaches an out, an excuse if things go awry. It smacks of the problems of an overcrowded test season and a side starting the season without their superstars McCaw and Carter. The skipper is back and the backline director is not far away. They have gone belly-up with three losses in six tests already. That is enough.
FIX THE LINEOUTS
The last two tests against the Boks have been a schemozzle. In worrying about the lineouts and veering away from that set piece area of the game, the All Blacks cramped their choices and made it easier for their rivals to read their play and defend it. Sides have to test their opponents in all facets of the game and when the All Blacks clearly shied away from the lineouts, it helped raise the Boks' sense of superiority. And every time the All Blacks neglect this part of their armoury, teams will sense their growing unease. If Hansen can't help fix it, get in someone who can.
He is class and playing. If he stays intact and continues his progress in the NPC then he has to be included in the squad for Sydney. He may not start but his instructions, his influence, his calm observations will be worth plenty to the squad and even more if he can be injected from the bench. If it has been good enough to play others like Luke McAlister after very little rugby in a similar time frame, then Carter has to be chosen for the trip across the Ditch. Hearing Hansen say "it would be a form of panic I think", made you wonder about the state of urgency in the side.
It will be compulsory to tune into the crunch in Cape Town to note how the Wallabies approach their next task tomorrow against the Boks and what changes they have made to their style and structure from that they showed at Eden Park. Those comparisons and computer details on individuals and the Wallabies will be a crucial part in developing a concept to challenge the hosts in Sydney in a fortnight.
PIN ON THE BADGE, TED
At the last look, Henry was still the designated coach of this side. He has a swag of assistants, who would not look out of place with the PM, and there are many areas where Henry rightly delegates his authority. He has sharpened the defence up but the inability of his sidekicks to sharpen the attack and the lineouts has to be a concern. Much of the work this season has been mediocre and for a side which has well over 550 caps that continuing lack of impact must be disconcerting.
SHOVE THE CONTRACTS SYSTEM
Put those players deemed to be of test calibre on a retainer but reward those on form with selection and therefore more financial benefits. Too many players trundle around as bit parts in the operation instead of lacing on their boots and being involved in club or provincial battles.