All Blacks: Brutal honesty needed now

By Gregor Paul

The All Blacks must reflect on why they have lost four of eight tests this year. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks must reflect on why they have lost four of eight tests this year. Photo / Getty Images

For a team that has built its legacy on honesty, it's time for the All Blacks to ask some tough questions and be prepared for answers they don't like.

Graham Henry was honest enough to admit that he was braced for more losses this season.

Will he be honest enough to admit now that the All Blacks have already exceeded his expectations?

It's not just the results, though, that are troubling. The Springboks are a quality side, to lose three times to them is not necessarily a disaster.

It's the nature of the defeats, the repeated mistakes, the inability to tidy the basics and the lineout.

The lineout ... the sorry, sorry lineout so sick, so pained so in need of a permanent fix, it's just impossible to believe that the boss men, whose job it is to leverage every cent they can from the All Black brand, are going to allow offers of help to be rebuffed by the coaching trio.

The current scenario should be testing loyalties; it should be pushing friendships to breaking point.

Henry and his assistant Steve Hansen go back a long way together. They are bonded by mutual respect and a shared philosophy on how to play.

That makes it tough for the process of evaluation to be as objective, honest and brutal as it needs to be.

If the panel trawled through tapes of every game this season, would they be convinced the forwards have made progress?

And when they do strike positives, can they be sure there was consistency or were there just flashes, as there were last night, of aggressive counter rucking and neat off-loading around the fringes?

"We played well in the last 20 minutes," said Henry. "But we didn't play well enough in the first 60 minutes, quite frankly. We didn't have the structure up front and we turned the ball over in the tackle."

Being honest about that is the easy bit. Everyone could see where the game was lost. The question is why were the All Blacks basically out of the game by the final quarter?

As far as the lineout went, Henry saw it like this: "I guess it's about confidence. If you don't hit the jumpers early, then confidence starts to wane and that's what happened."

Again, it comes back to why. Confidence seems to wane every test. The All Black lineout has rarely held its shape for 80 minutes this season.

There was a big improvement in the final quarter and that left the coaching panel with a positive to clutch.

Those 20 minutes, though, can't be seen as medicinal. They can't, given this was the fourth loss of the season and given the repetition of basic errors, be used as a shield.

A ratio of three duff quarters to one promising is not a ratio that should breed contentment. Nor is four losses from eight games.

Are the players listening? Are the coaching panel getting through to them?

You have to wonder when Henry revealed what he has learned from the three losses to the Springboks.

"It's a basic game," he said. "You have to have quality first-phase ball. You have to build a foundation through the set-piece and get across the advantage line. That sets the platform."

It's all so basic, yet the All Blacks are not managing it. We can't be sure anyone else would do a better job right now.

Henry is nothing but resilient, imminently capable of bouncing back this week with a breath-taking win against the Wallabies. Even if that happens, however, it shouldn't prevent the door being closed and everyone, Hansen in particular, from coming under the most intense scrutiny.

- Herald on Sunday

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