Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Team lacking quality and control


"Reasonably happy" were not the words of an All Black coach enthused about the performance of his side.

When Steve Hansen goes through the statistics and video replay, he will have a significant amount of questions and demands for those who took the field against Japan.

They all collected a test cap and the quartet of Frank Halai, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock and Jeff Toomaga-Allen will never forget the thrill of appearing for the first time in the famous rugby uniform.

For most though if they look in the mirror or go bone deep in their personal assessment, as Hansen likes to term it, they will concede this was not All Black quality.

There were reasons. This was a makeshift selection, Japan brought more forward grunt than they have and conditions became difficult as rain swept across the Prince Chichibu Stadium in Tokyo.

This performance lacked some common sense. The All Blacks showed a lack of control. Careless and untidy passes were thrown, kicks were average, the scrum was disconnected and too many penalties were conceded.

Nerves maybe, lack of combination perhaps, but this was a test and these are the All Blacks. The scoreline was irrelevant.

They took ages to cope with Japan's style of limbo rugby where their scything tackles, breakdown work and scrum engagement forced the All Blacks to play even closer to the turf than they are used to.

Perhaps everything came at too much of a rush for the All Blacks with a week in Japan full of new sights, sounds, marketing work and pioneering hovering around this test. Even captain Richie McCaw looked awkward in the unfamiliar duties at No 8, however the staff will be content he and Dan Carter survived their return after injury.

When McCaw describes it as "an interesting old match" that is rugby code for a fairly average effort.

Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and midfield back Francis Saili were in much of the action but erratic.

Just as the All Blacks might have felt some shape was coming as Jeremy Thrush barged over after the break, the action started on the substitutes bench. That brought a new bout of 'let's get to know you rugby' although there was a first test try for Halai and a second for Charles Piutau, who made things happen and made it hard for Hansen and his selectors to reinstate Cory Jane after his injuries.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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