Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Coaches out to sharpen decision-making across team after sloppy play

Deeper analysis of the All Blacks' performance in Sydney on Saturday has led them to conclude that decision-making was the key flaw in their performance.

Execution was certainly sloppy - in the last 50 minutes in particular - but much of that inaccuracy was a result of taking the wrong option.

The problem was exacerbated, reckons assistant coach Ian Foster, by an element of indecisiveness which saw several players take too long to make up their minds about what they were going to do.

The speed of Australia's defensive line added to the problem as did the wet ball and soft ground. Foster said that much of the preparation this week will be focused on improving the mind-set of players: to inject some urgency into their thought processes so they can be proactive and decisive when in possession.

"Our decision-making wasn't that good last week and it is going to be a real focus for now," said Foster. "Some of the pressure we were under and the conditions in the second half, we were a little bit slow in the way we made decisions.

"That was a good learning curve for the guys out there. It was a tough Bledisloe, tough conditions and we were under a lot of pressure so we hope we have learned a lot from that.

"We have got to be sharp. We have got to look clearly. You have got to set a little earlier to make those decisions easier."

The expected return of Conrad Smith at centre will go some way towards driving the improvements the All Blacks are after. Malakai Fekitoa, who played in Smith's absence last week, did little wrong in a solid outing. But Smith's influence will extend beyond his role.

With 77 test caps and a decade of experience, Smith brings the added value of directing and advising those around him. He's recognised as a great fix-it man in the heat of battle - someone who can identify strengths and weaknesses within opposition as they arise.

That instant analysis as well as his composure and patience should enable the All Blacks to better keep their shape and poise when they have the ball. It should enable them to play the sort of rugby they produced in the first half of the third test against England - a game where the speed of the All Blacks' attacking movement was devastating.

"We have got to attack better for starters and our mind-set towards attack has got to be better," said Foster.

"We got a little bit tight on our structure. We got a bit narrow on the way we played and after controlling the game reasonably well for 30 minutes, after that we were a little bit flustered and our decision-making became harder and harder.

"It is about trusting in what we do. It is really important when we talk about decisions it is not just No 9 and No 10. I'd like to see us hang on to the ball a little bit more and control collisions with some good running lines. These are the things that we harp on and have traditionally been a strength of ours and we weren't quite up to scratch in that regard. A few things got under our skin at the weekend and we let them affect us."

- NZ Herald

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