Sean Fitzpatrick 's Opinion

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean Fitzpatrick: Forget losses - Welsh focus is on All Blacks

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England skipper Chris Robshaw. Photo / Getty Images
England skipper Chris Robshaw. Photo / Getty Images

I have just one word of warning to fans who are thinking that the All Blacks will indeed march to the four test wins on tour that I nominated last week as a minimum requirement of this tour: Wales are waiting and they see this match as the World Cup final that should have been played but never was.

I am not trying to talk up the game, nor ignore the fact that the Pumas beat Wales last weekend, or that Samoa beat them yesterday. There were some extenuating circumstances.

Coach Warren Gatland wasn't there and the team was taken by interim coach Rob Howley. Gatland has still been hindered by the foot injury suffered some time back and which has hampered him badly. He is still only walking with crutches and has also been using a Segway to get around.

I mean no disrespect to Howley but it does not help having your main coach absent. Wales are also notoriously slow starters in their autumn tests and the Pumas showed the advantages of playing in the Rugby Championship this year.

That just underlines to the IRB how, if they give nations like that assistance, they will do well if they are exposed to high-class rugby.

Wales also have a few injuries - like flanker Dan Lydiate, a good player - but all the talk I have heard coming out of Wales is how they are focusing on the All Black test.

Gatland will be back by then and the dropping to the bench of Wales skipper and flanker Sam Warburton to "freshen" the side against Samoa is a further clue, I believe, that the Welsh are really setting their caps at the All Blacks next Sunday. A one-off approach makes them even more dangerous.

If they do well against the All Blacks, all that has happened before will be forgotten, even five straight losses.

England will also not be easy. Their matches against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand will be career-defining for new coach Stuart Lancaster and many of his new players. They have some interesting newcomers who show a lot of potential.

I have watched new captain Chris Robshaw week in and week out and he is becoming a very good player. His leadership has been outstanding though he has yet to be put under the kind of pressure that will apply over the three weeks that he and his team will take on the best in the world.

They have a good front row, depth in the second row and back row, a good halfback and a back three who can compete with the best in world rugby. It's at numbers 10, 12 and 13 that they have a problem.

It's the same with the Wallabies right now - they also have a midfield which struggles to create much and to quell the opposition's.

Australia was poor against France but I don't share David Campese's contention that coach Robbie Deans has "destroyed" Australian rugby.

Campo said, with his usual dramatic entry into the Northern Hemisphere rugby scene, that the Australian players could only pass one way - and couldn't pass with their left hands nor kick with their left boots.

Sorry, but that doesn't have much to do with Robbie Deans, does it? Those skills should be developed a long way ahead of a player getting anywhere near the Wallabies.

However, it's the All Blacks who deserve most attention. I watched them at Edinburgh from a corner flag position and they were playing away from us in the first half.

That gives you a wider dimension you don't get on TV. It gave me a chance to see first-hand how much space they create, the pace they play at, the speed at which they recycle the ball and the speed of pass.

Former Lions coach Clive Woodward did an assessment up here that suggested the All Blacks recycle the ball 30 per cent quicker than anyone else in world rugby.

That gives them a huge advantage and really puts pressure on the defensive systems of their opponents.

The All Blacks went off the boil in the second half against Scotland - but it reconfirmed what I said last week: they are a better side than in the World Cup final a year ago, they are maturing fast and they are aiming at new goals now. Wales - and England - may be waiting but these All Blacks are coming. Fast.

- Herald on Sunday

Sean Fitzpatrick

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick remains one of the greatest rugby players to have graced the game and one of the All Blacks’ most celebrated captains. Throughout his stellar he played 128 matches from 1986 up until his retirement in 1998. His 11 years of captaincy were heralded as some of the most prolific in All Blacks history, including captaining the team to their first ever series win against the Springboks in South Africa in 1996 – a record achievement in its own right.

Read more by Sean Fitzpatrick

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