Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Promising beginning to new All Blacks era

This new All Blacks era has begun with enough promise to have just about expunged any hopes the chasing pack were forming about Kieran Read's side being vulnerable.

They are by no means infallible or such an intimidating force as to have left opponents fearful, but in three tests against Wales they got progressively better and suggested that whatever issues they do have, are not insurmountable or dramatic.

Finishing the series with what was an emphatic destruction of Wales set the All Blacks apart from their impending Rugby Championship foes. There they were ripping through Wales with some impressive pass and catch rugby that was underpinned by relentless physical dominance in all the collision areas, while Australia floundered, again, to cope with England's power and fell to their third successive defeat.

South Africa were digging deep to hold out Ireland who were maybe one metre short of winning the series and a second string French side dealt to the Pumas.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will be quite happy with where his side are at, aware that there is plenty to improve but just as conscious that an impressive foundation has been laid.

The important stuff is mostly on track. The scrum went through three tests without ever being anything other than rock solid.

The lineout, after a strangely erratic first 20 minutes in Auckland, resumed normal service for the remainder of the series and looks set to become a significant weapon.


The All Blacks have fluidity, options and immaculate execution and timing, which is in stark contrast to the Wallabies who were left in Sydney with one target and an obvious sense of dread that their set piece remains a giant concern.

By the third test the All Blacks had also fixed their technical and tactical issues at the breakdown and had learned how to shift bodies and get that quick recycled possession which makes them flow.

This is a part of the game that changes test-to-test dependent on opposition and refereeing, so it may be that they have to start all over again come the Rugby Championship.

The important thing, though, is that they were able to find the solutions they needed and that alludes to the other critical finding of the series which is that Read and his fellow leaders were composed and methodical when put under pressure.

The concern held by Hansen wasn't that the new leadership team wouldn't step up, it was more about how quickly they would.

For what, by international standards, was an age, the likes of Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter and Conrad Smith had been responsible for driving the All Blacks out of tight spots. Hansen was concerned some of the new leaders might be slow to own the responsibility for fixing things.

But there was no sense of players hiding or looking for others to take control and again, while it is inevitable more pressure will be applied in the coming months, the All Blacks can feel they are on the right road to successfully maintain their mental strength and direction in the post-McCaw era.

They will also feel they have unearthed a handful of promising players, most notably in the loose trio where all of Ardie Savea, Liam Squire and Elliot Dixon impressed with the game time they had.


Elsewhere they will feel they scored a major bonus with the return of Israel Dagg to the sort of form that makes him a deadly threat, although some of that will have been tempered with the continued difficulties being experienced by Julian Savea.

Hansen continues to believe that patience will pay dividend with Savea and while that may prove to be the case, it's getting to the stage where tangible evidence would make him and everyone else feel more relaxed.

But to lose more than 800 caps, then sweep the series and play thrilling rugby at times - that's an impressive post World Cup statement.

Looking at where Australia, South Africa and Argentina are in their respective developments, Hansen will be more then content to have Savea's patchy form as his only real concern.

- NZ Herald

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