Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All Blacks poised for step up

Rusty to promising was the transition the All Blacks made in 80 minutes at Eden Park and promising to polished is the aim for Wellington.

To do that, they are expected to send out much the same team with perhaps only the bench to be shuffled.

There were obvious faults and issues with the All Blacks' execution and application at times on Saturday night, but none that were overly concerning coach Steve Hansen and that he feels would be best fixed by making changes.

His view was that most of the problems stemmed from players struggling to make the mental and physical adjustments to test rugby and, with a game behind them, they will be atuned from the start on Saturday in Wellington.

"I think it was a bit of a reminder ... a bit of a shock for some," Hansen said. "There is a major difference between that next level down and getting used to the pace of the game and the intensity that comes with it.

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"I think we will try to keep it pretty settled at this stage. There's no point in rehashing what we have just done this week and having another rusty performance. We need to put a few together. There might be one or two changes, but I wouldn't think there will be too many, if any."

Hansen felt there was a sluggishness of thought - that players didn't react quickly to either exploit attacking opportunities or quell the threat defensively.

In test football, a split second can make a huge difference and if players are slow to see that there is space to exploit, the opportunity disappears. There were also several occasions when the backline was slow to see that Wales were counter-attacking and both Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo were guilty of giving their opposites too much room.

George North had a great night, skinning Savea a couple of times, but the selectors will most likely back the All Black wing to tidy up his positioning by improving his reaction time and reading the play better.

Gregor Paul and Patrick McKendry on the All Blacks' performance

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That he missed the tackle was almost inevitable - any defender giving North that much space would be punished by an athlete who has speed, size and agility few can match.

"We have got to get quicker to transfer from attack to defence, defence to attack," said Hansen. "I think at times we were a little bit off the pace for us. Defensively, we can get better, particularly out wide. We gave them too much time and space, particularly George North.

"We gave him the opportunity to beat people, which he did pretty consistently. Breakdown, we have got to get better, again out wide. We have got to get our wingers and backs to be stronger over the ball and contest for it better than we did. Right across the game, we have got to get the rustiness out of it. Our lineout early in the game was poor. We won't panic, we'll just keep quietly working away and fix the things we need to fix."

Injured lock Sam Whitelock is still only a 50:50 chance of recovering, which means it's probable the same starting XV will be picked for the second test. There may be some tinkering on the bench - not through dissatisfaction with those who came on at Eden Park, but to give players who haven't yet been seen, or used for a while, a taste of the action.

- NZ Herald

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