Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Wales series answered a lot of questions

A clean sweep, 16 tries and five new caps successfully blooded - the All Blacks don't have much to complain about from their series against Wales.

They also delivered a lineout which was almost faultless after a strangely-erratic opening 20 minutes at Eden Park, a scrum that dominated and got better and built a defensive screen that was a work in progress until Dunedin when it all came together.

That speed, aggression and effectiveness of the defence is arguably the most important and reassuring development to have come out of the series.

With all due respect to Wales, the All Blacks will face sides with more attacking range in the Rugby Championship. The speed of movement will go up, the skill will be that bit higher and half a metre of space or one weak tackle against the likes of Australia, South Africa and even Argentina can be costly.

Head coach Steve Hansen was delighted to see the All Blacks drive hard off the line, make effective tackles and keep pushing Wales back. A fact easily forgotten in the wake of a World Cup that produced endless attacking moments, was that the All Blacks built their campaign on the strength of their defence. They tackled as one, shut down all the space and didn't give an inch in the collisions.

The performance, defensively, in Dunedin was close to the levels the All Blacks produced last year and Wales ended up running out of ideas, sometimes having no idea where they could run or kick to find space.

"It was," said Hansen, when asked if the All Blacks defence had been one of the biggest areas of improvement. "That was another area that we really improved on. We were good off the line and were reasonably fierce in our tackling.

"If you look at what we have achieved, we got better each game, blooded a lot of new people and we have a new leadership group and new skipper, so we answered a lot of questions."

One of those questions was the strength and cohesion of the decision making and tactical direction. The coaching team didn't doubt they had the talent to replace the players they lost at the end of last year, but they did, legitimately, have some concern as to how the team would cope losing so much experience in regard to their ability to do the right things under pressure and hold together.

A 3-0 series win against a Welsh side that, while tired by the third game, managed to give the All Blacks moments of duress was a strong statement that the new group is standing up.

"If anyone said you are going to lose 818 caps and do what we have done over the last three weeks, than you would be really happy," Hansen said. "Is our game where we want it to be? No, but it never is. But very happy, really. Not many test teams would carry on as if it [losing so much experience] hadn't happened."

Wales coach Warren Gatland was in agreement, believing the All Blacks showed, especially in the third test, a gulf in class in comparison with his own team.

His assessment was that the speed of the All Blacks to hit bodies out the way in all of the collision areas and their ruthless physicality was the key difference.

"It is that collision dominance and in terms of that acceleration into the contact area," said Gatland on why he felt the score blew out the way it did, "That is a big work-on for us because that is what creates the quick ball.

"That was the big difference between the two sides tonight. You can get away with it in the Northern Hemisphere because they are not as aggressive but the All Blacks were clinical in that area."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 28 Oct 2016 12:05:28 Processing Time: 580ms