Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks plan to kill Pumas with pace

New Zealand All Blacks 1st-five Beauden Barrett. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
New Zealand All Blacks 1st-five Beauden Barrett. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

For the All Blacks, speed kills. It paved the way for their three victories over Wales in June and was even more evident in their recent Bledisloe Cup destruction of the Wallabies.

Now the challenge for them is to continue their high-tempo, skills-based game against Argentina and the Springboks, starting with the Pumas at Waikato Stadium on Saturday.

It's a strategy which naturally suits the All Blacks because of the grounding each individual gets as a young school or club player. In this way they have an automatic advantage over the rest of the rugby-playing world. It's also fun to play and very difficult to combat when done properly.

The All Blacks, on a 13-win streak including another World Cup victory, lost more than 800 test caps following that memorable final victory against Australia at Twickenham last November, but have gone to a new level regardless.

That's due to the onus on every player in the squad to improve their fitness and skills.

Tight forwards are expected to handle the ball like backs, likewise backs are expected to do the heavy lifting at the breakdown like forwards. It's a multi-faceted approach keeping the All Blacks ahead and a stimulating environment to be a part of, according to lock Sam Whitelock.

"As a tight forward it's awesome to challenge yourself in that area," he said.

"We're always trying to improve - that [improved skill level] is an area we've highlighted lately. If we can get growth there we can probably get an advantage."

Ben Smith, the fullback used to a high-tempo and ambitious game plan with the Highlanders, said: "In any team you're involved in you enjoy it when the game is played at speed and the players get a chance to test their skills.

"That's the team you want to be a part of - you always have to be on your game and looking for opportunities. That's a big part of our game."

Assistant coach Ian Foster is reluctant to acknowledge the All Blacks have gone to a new level since their World Cup victory. In between the white noise of the team's apparent free rein from match officials and citing commissioners, even the critics in the Northern Hemisphere admit the All Blacks are out on their own at the moment, but Foster said his team's game remained a work in progress.

"I know people are excited that we're getting to a new level," he said. "I think we're getting there, I don't think we're there yet, personally.

"It's a credit to the guys we've lost - the work that they have put into the culture of this team that when they've left it's carrying on trucking. They get a big pat on the back. The leadership group going forward particularly get a big pat on the back because [Kieran Read] Reado and Ben and those guys are leading it in their own style and it suits this group. It's very inclusive and encompasses I guess the new guys and the enthusiasm they bring.

"They are working really hard to make sure it's not an environment that becomes oppressive because of the pressure on it."

"We don't what to judge ourselves mid-championship on how well we're going, we want to judge ourselves at the end. But the overall signs are positive."

"We're always trying to add stuff. I don't think we've tinkered with the fundamental part of it and the importance of core roles and core skill work, but we've probably added a few variations ... because we see the game suited us to become a high-tempo skill-based game."

The Pumas, who will go into Saturday's test following a victory over the Springboks, will try to slow the All Blacks down, especially at the breakdown, Foster suggested.

"We do know the Argentines are one team we often struggle to get quick ball from. It's clearly their objective to slow down everything we do. When we've really struggled with them in the past is moving their big bodies and their intention to slow everything down.

We've got to make sure we get that tempo going and that we can play our game because otherwise it becomes a real bunfight."

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