Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Master plan pays off spectacularly

Hansen focused on strong follow-up to stunning display against France.

Few things satisfy coaches as much as their players carrying out their plans to the letter - and winning.

The last bit is the most important part of test rugby, but the All Blacks in Christchurch on Saturday night did it all.

Their victory over France a week before at Eden Park wasn't a bad one by any means. The French had flown in under the radar a bit and competed extremely well.

In Christchurch, the visitors were simply blown away by an All Blacks team which had heeded Steve Hansen's warning and improved out of sight. Their plan, apart from upping the intensity by, as Hansen said, by "nine or 10 cogs", was to turn the French with kicks in behind the defensive line, and that was done perfectly too.

By yesterday afternoon, Hansen had put the match to bed and was already concentrating on how to get the best from his men this week in New Plymouth.

But the stunning performance the night before, which had sent the sell-out crowd of 22,000 into the cold and rain talking over the many highlights, is worth re-visiting. After all, the All Blacks have never kept France scoreless in a history of 53 tests over 107 years.

Fullback Israel Dagg had his best night in months, left wing Julian Savea ran straighter and harder than he has for ages, right wing Ben Smith carried on his usual excellence and halfback Aaron Smith and first-five Aaron Cruden kicked with intelligence.

Lock Sam Whitelock deserves plaudits for the way he played after getting a last-minute call-up and No8 Kieran Read was inspirational in his 50th test despite being troubled by a painful blow to his lower back.

Even Ma'a Nonu was getting in on the act, using a rarely seen kicking game to engineer Savea's early try.

"Ma'a was probably the surprise package to most of you but we've known for a long time he's had a pretty good boot, but he's never been one to use it too much," Hansen said yesterday. "But last night I think he came of age as a kicking inside centre or second-five because he displayed those skills and it takes a bit of pressure off your 10."

Read remains sore from his knock, and Whitelock, who was outstanding in disrupting the French lineout, has a sore left elbow, but all of Hansen's players, including Dan Carter, should be available for selection next Saturday.

"We're very happy with the performance, particularly the way we went about doing it," Hansen said. "I think we played pretty smart, we kicked well, the guys did their core roles really well within the team structure. We enjoyed that but we put a full stop on it and we have to start work again today and it's about getting our next 60 hours right with our recovery and getting re-energised ..."

While the All Blacks did kick well, their two superb counter-attacking tries through Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett will live longest in the memory. The fact they were willing to throw the ball around from deep in their half despite having a kick-first mentality earlier in the match speaks volumes for their confidence and adaptability.

All Blacks 30
France 0

- APNZ

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