Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Easy games could haunt All Blacks later on

The All Blacks smashed Japan. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks smashed Japan. Photo / Getty Images

There was a hint of frustration simmering within the All Black camp last night. They had improved on their first performance, kept their structure well, been more accurate and more cohesive and were confident they had built on what they achieved at Eden Park.

But deep down, it was apparent Graham Henry had wanted a stiffer challenge. Japan played with pace and precision at times and held their shape well.

Their defensive line was usually always set but the genetic hand they have been dealt was always a problem. They just didn't have the power in the tackle to knock down the All Blacks or blow them away at the breakdown. It was all too easy for the All Blacks.

At times the All Blacks could paste over bad options by simply smashing through the tackle. Against the better teams, that won't be so easy.

Dead alleys are dead alleys when France are defending and, for the second World Cup in succession, the All Blacks are preparing for the tougher challenges ahead with lightly opposed training runs.

France, even if they do field a second team, will provide a stiff examination but Henry no doubt would wish for a bit more hard-edged rugby.

While the All Blacks are cruising through their Rugby World Cup pool, their most likely rivals are being beaten into good shape.

England have already had an epic struggle with Argentina and will at least be tested physically by Romania and Georgia before they are again thrust into a full-blooded encounter with Scotland.

Forget the dross the Scots have served up so far - against England they will raise their game by 20 per cent or more and they really aren't as bad as they have appeared to be. Remember, Scotland defeated South Africa in November and it was a Springbok team that had plenty of frontline talent in it.

As for South Africa, they too will have a demanding time just getting out of their pool. Wales pushed them to the limit last weekend and should have won. Fiji are never easy and Samoa could yet cause the massive upset the tournament is crying out for.

Australia had to work hard for their win against Italy which was good preparation for a tough encounter against Ireland.

Things aren't as bad as in 2007 when the All Blacks put 70 points on a badly out-of-sorts Italian team, more than 100 on Portugal, close to the same number again against Romania while even Scotland, their one potential proper clash, fielded a B-team and didn't fire a shot.

It was a major shock to the system to meet a French team that had come through a ferociously competitive pool that included Argentina (whom they lost to), Ireland and a good Georgian team who were more than training ground fodder.

Still, there is little doubt Henry would be happier if his team had been pressured across the field and forced to deal with some aggressive defence.

The difficulty with Japan offering so little physically was making an accurate assessment of how the All Blacks played. All Henry could say was: "We wanted to build the game. We threw passes we didn't have to and one resulted in Japan scoring. We just need to be patient."

Overall he felt that his side achieved eight out of 10 when assessed against the goals they set. That's just it - the All Blacks had to set goals other than winning the game.

- Herald on Sunday

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