Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: All Blacks have kept winning and kept on getting better

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Cory Jane of the All Blacks hands off Digby Ioane of the Wallabies. Photo / Getty Images
Cory Jane of the All Blacks hands off Digby Ioane of the Wallabies. Photo / Getty Images

This was rugby to occupy the coaching manuals for the Pumas and warm memories for the All Blacks.

The All Blacks are victims of their success.

The more they win (they are on a 15-test streak) the more we look for progress in their play. That's just the way it is.

We should be content that they win because watching the alternative unfold, as it has with the Wallabies this season, does not offer much of a feel-good factor.

It is the New Zealand way to carp at worst and at best to debate everything about the men in black. Even before squad selections are made there is robust discussion about players' merits and once those picks are unveiled and the All Blacks play, the scrutiny ratchets up even more.

That is part of rugby followers' DNA, everyone has an opinion and divergent views on the same players and coaches.

So it came as no surprise to be asked for an article on how the All Blacks were tracking and areas where they need to improve.

Here they were, undefeated in eight internationals in 2012 - having seen off Ireland three times, Australia twice, Argentina twice and the Boks - and we are looking for deficiencies and where the All Blacks could improve.

We can judge them against a template coach Steve Hansen used at the start of the season when he picked an extended squad including youngsters such as Beauden Barrett, Luke Whitelock, Brad Shields, Sam Cane, Ben Tameifuna and Charlie Faumuina. Several were very left field, while Barrett, Cane and Faumuina have graduated to the main group.

Hansen wanted to build a foundation of high intensity and high accuracy with multi-skilled athletes who were capable of running opposition sides ragged.

There is no argument they have the first ingredient but some of the precision has not been as sharp as they visualised.

Hansen wanted his men to be strong ball carriers, win the collisions and deliver quick possession and those noting the 42-10 scoreline from their first outing against Ireland would have guessed they got much of the request right.

In truth, they struggled for fluidity as the Irish admitted they were not in the same league.

A week later Ireland had a man extra when Israel Dagg was sinbinned seven minutes from time, but still could not find the recipe for their first win.

As Hansen acknowledged, "We didn't play great", but mediocre was still too good for Ireland. How the All Blacks bit back in the third test when they womped the visitors 60-0.

They were poor and the All Blacks were in the zone, especially with their defence. Aaron Cruden started like a train before retiring with a leg problem as Beauden Barrett continued the garnish.

That series done, the Super 15 returned before the All Blacks and Wallabies measured their first combat. The All Blacks took that duel out 27-19 in Sydney in a test noted more for mistakes and referee Alain Rolland's rules vigilance.

The test caravan rolled into Eden Park for the rematch and the All Blacks' second season shutout as they signed off a 22-0 victory. There was a solitary try to Dagg in another strong production though nothing like the "masterclass" description used by Wallaby coach Robbie Deans.

"We were half an inch away from a really good performance that would have made us proud," Hansen noted.

A first meeting with the Pumas in Wellington was ruined by the weather so there was anticipation of a different sort of performance under the roof in Dunedin when the Boks arrived.

Some sting was curtailed with halfback Aaron Smith benched until halftime, while the Boks could have won if the Steyns and Johan Goosen had goaled more than two of their combined nine attempts and Dean Greyling had not been sinbinned.

Then it was off to Argentina, where the All Blacks scored seven tries to two in a pasting of the Pumas, albeit with rare glitches to start each half.

Otherwise, this was rugby to occupy the coaching manuals for the Pumas and warm memories for the All Blacks, the sort of levels they have reached in half their tests this season, but a standard which has been too potent for all their foes.


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- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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