Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All Blacks' impetus weakened by delays

Whether by accident or design, 48 minutes of action were stolen at Eden Park in the first test of the year and the All Blacks are anxious that such a crime won't be allowed to take place in Dunedin.

The All Blacks and England only produced 32 minutes and 11 seconds of rugby in Auckland and the former know where the bulk of that time was lost and have their suspicions why.

The where is relatively easy to answer and beyond dispute: there were, by Southern Hemisphere standards, unusually long delays in setting the set-piece of which there were 23 lineouts and 18 scrums.

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England, with the consent of referee Nigel Owens, were able to huddle before the lineout, establish their plan and then meander into formation at their leisure.

This is apparently standard practice in the Northern Hemisphere and done, so England say, to help them gain clarity ahead of the throw.

The All Blacks aren't convinced - they think it's a deliberate ploy designed to reduce the aerobic content and to provide longer rest periods between bursts of action.

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England are capable and comfortable playing with ball in hand but not to the same extent the All Blacks are. England's strength remains their power to hit up the middle of the field and dominate the collisions. To own the narrow channels.

They have troubled the All Blacks in their last three encounters by smothering them and keeping the game away from the touchlines. Control has been their key weapon - that and preventing the All Blacks from generating momentum.

Their defensive linespeed, ball retention and organisation and technical proficiency have been factors in stifling the All Blacks. The go-slow tactics when the ball is dead were a new twist and not one the All Blacks are convinced is legitimate.

"Yeah, that would be nice," said Hansen when he was asked whether he would like to see England told to hurry up today. "Again we have to adapt to whatever the referee allows. He allowed that last week. We bring most things with up him ... but whether he does anything about it is on the day."

England claim to be perplexed by the very suggestion there is some dastardly ploy at hand. They are, they say, a pass and run team much like the All Blacks and that it's not in their best interests to slow the game down.

But 32 minutes and 11 seconds is a fairly dismal total by recent standards. The average at the 2003 World Cup was 33 minutes and 36 seconds, which climbed to 35 minutes and 12 seconds by 2007 and 35 minutes and 25 seconds in 2011. There was one game in 2007, France versus New Zealand, where the ball was in play for 45 minutes and 34 seconds. It might not sound much, but an extra three to four minutes of ball in play can change the entire nature of the contest. Rugby becomes a different game when there aren't near-minute rest periods for lineouts.

England No 8 Ben Morgan was outstanding in Auckland. But he's 116kg and an extra three minutes of running would present an athlete of his size with significant challenges.

Tonight, given the certainty of a fast track and a dry ball and the near certainty the All Blacks will be vastly improved at pass and catch, the ball should stay in play for considerably longer.

And when it does, answers should be easier to deduce about the respective fitness levels of both teams.

"It's definitely not something we talk about as a team," said England lock Joe Launchbury about the delay tactics. "It is not something we try to do. We make the calls as we go to the lineout. We like to play rugby fast. Look at the way our halfbacks like to play rugby: Danny Care will get his hands on the ball and quick tap and gos ... that's the way we like to play. The way we enjoy playing.

"If you look at the Premiership back home and pretty much every team we play in the Six Nations they all do the same. It might be slightly different over here. I remember going to watch the Super 15 last weekend and I noticed that they called in the lineout. I enjoy a quick game testing myself and not trying to hide in the dark places of the game.

"I enjoy trying to get in the wide channels. I suppose the proof is in the game and what happens towards the end of the game but I would say we have got a bunch of guys who are really fit."

- NZ Herald

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