Sean Fitzpatrick 's Opinion

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

Sean Fitzpatrick: All Blacks ramp up the pressure

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Israel Dagg justified his selection last night.  Photo / Getty Images
Israel Dagg justified his selection last night. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks did their homework and executed their game plan almost perfectly last night.

You have to take your hat off to the coaching staff and the players - that was a fine example of thorough analysis, planning and execution. It was clever because the French didn't expect it. I mean ... Ma'a Nonu kicking twice to set up the first try? He just doesn't do that, does he?

Their kicking game was sharp and they put the pressure on France just by taking the territory away from them. The All Black lineout was very good, particularly the defensive lineouts on the French throw. That really had them rattled. The All Blacks put in big kicks to win good field position and then attacked the French at the resulting lineouts.

The scrum was solid too, so there was no relief for the French there and the defence was outstanding. There was a period in the second half when the French were hot on attack - and the defence was not just solid, it was offensive defence, well organised. I'm not saying the result would have been different but, if the French had scored then, they may have come back into things a lot more than they were allowed to.

It was typical All Blacks, in a way. Defence, defence, defence - and then the French made a mistake, Sam Cane charged down Freddie Michalak's drop goal attempt and the All Blacks scored 90m away through Ben Smith. It was a heartbreaker for the French.

I am often puzzled why the French like Michalak at 10. For my money, he does better when he is at halfback and he looked more at home when he shifted there last night. He tends to melt down under pressure and he did a bit last night.

Cane did okay, I thought, though that big No8 Louis Picamoles had a field day again for the first 20 or 30 minutes of the test. Cane came on a little stronger as the game went on. Kieran Read was excellent, what a work rate and influence he has.

The other notable improvement was in the All Blacks' physical approach. They were out-physicalled last week and we can look vulnerable when teams take us on at the breakdown. So it was good to see them ramp that up last night with players like Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks in the thick of it. There is no reason for us not to be physical with the players we have.

Talking about Whitelock, I think he is world-class now. The way he organised the lineouts was admirable and he is a physical player whose combination with Luke Romano is really comfortable and starting to bear fruit now.

It was also good to see Aaron Cruden, Julian Savea and Israel Dagg stepping up and improving as well. They had all attracted criticism about their continued selection after the previous test but all justified themselves with with good displays.

Cruden made the space in the move that led to Beauden Barrett's try although the latter started it from near his own line.

Dagg, in particular, gained real confidence from his work in defence and his kicking game.

You'd also have to say that the All Blacks have justified what I consider devaluing of Super Rugby by hauling people out for training camps. I still don't like the idea but, when the All Blacks take players who have not performed well in Super Rugby and persuade them to play better on a bigger stage, you have to say that the All Blacks really are the only game in town.

- 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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