All Blacks: Forwards must pick it up in the breakdown

The ABs beat Fiji on Friday but must improve. Photo / Getty Images
The ABs beat Fiji on Friday but must improve. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks forwards know they will be hitting bodies during training this week trying to refine their accuracy at the breakdown.

Their inability to deliver clean ball was the biggest failing of their performance on Friday and an area of the game they can't afford to get wrong against the Boks.

Traditionalists live by the cliche that test football is won and lost up front - except these days that doesn't always mean scrum and lineout.

The breakdown has become the key contestable area in modern football and the entire All Blacks game plan is contingent on being able to deliver quick ball from contact and also stealing turnover possession. They never got going in that department in Dunedin. Too often, the Fijians were able to get their hands on the halfback or storm through the middle.

"The biggest work-on we have is the breakdown," said assistant coach Steve Hansen. "We need to be effective there and being effective means making good decisions and executing the skills.

"At times, we didn't make good decision there. We put too many people in or not enough and, other times, the skill execution of moving the threats from the breakdown wasn't very good. But we can sort those things out pretty quickly. Overall, we would give them a pass mark."

The speed and accuracy of the cleanout was the enduring feature of the All Black performances in last year's Tri Nations. Against the Boks in particular, they were controlled and effective in the way they targeted individuals and neutralised them with outstanding technique.

Ali Williams, playing his first test since November 2008, is expecting to be working on the breakdown for most of this week.

"Initially, we got pretty good ball and then it was messy," he said. "Maybe we didn't get there fast enough or there were a few guys coming in and over-committing.

"I would say it will be an area we will come under pressure on Tuesday."

As well as hours of refinement on the training ground, the All Blacks will also be able to make instant improvements to their collision skills by bringing back Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Brad Thorn, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read. These five will make all the difference.

They have the body positions and power to shift people when they commit and they are also experts at knowing when to go in or stay out. Admittedly it was only against Fiji in the first hit out of the season, but the performance on Friday night served as a little reminder that there is a fair bit of daylight between the regular starters and the challengers in some positions.

Andrew Hore didn't show up in the loose in the way Mealamu does and he had two squint throws to further emphasise that he's fallen some way behind his great rival.

The loose forward trio on Friday didn't take control of the contest the way they might have had Read and Kaino been playing from the start. Adam Thomson and Liam Messam didn't stop running but the longer the game went on, the more it became apparent the All Blacks really do need their best players on the park to be a dominant force.

- Herald on Sunday

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