Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Why the All Blacks had to sub Aaron Smith

The decision to take off Aaron Smith was bold but effective. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
The decision to take off Aaron Smith was bold but effective. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Although the All Blacks ran up a massive scoreline last night, it wasn't enough to convince them that they should be particularly content with their performance.

For 50 minutes they didn't deliver what they wanted. They didn't defend with enough venom or accuracy, let the Pumas run too far and were also guilty of allowing them to make significant mileage through the middle of the ruck.

When the All Blacks had the ball, they weren't quite as direct as they needed to be, there was a lack of sting in their clean-out work, a tendency to not move bodies out the way effectively and just a slight sense of them not being as ruthless and dynamic as they needed to be.

Some of that was down to their own failing but, more so, it was because Argentina were smart and urgent. They played cleverly and accurately and made life tough for the All Blacks which was exactly what coach Steve Hansen wanted.

"It was an ideal game for us," he said, "coming off two pretty successful weeks against Australia and then we were put under a lot of pressure in the first half.

"We had to find some answers. We were looking a little bit at ourselves I would say when we came in at halftime. We had to clear our thought processes and were a lot more effective in our roles and executing what we needed to do. That put a lot of pressure on the Argentines and we managed to get over them."

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The ease with which the Pumas found and created holes in that opening 50 minutes has given the All Blacks plenty to think about and work on but, equally, the way they responded in the last half hour was just as significant.

The decision to take off Aaron Smith was bold but effective. Hansen said the world's best halfback was struggling to deal with his frustration and, as a result, not clearing the ball with his usual sharpness and accuracy.

TJ Perenara came on, tidied things up, got the ball moving better behind a pack which was also defending better and recycling with the speed and dynamism that their game depends on.

Once those two factors clicked in, the ball carriers found that edge. Everyone ran harder and straighter. The passes began to hit the mark and the Pumas wilted a little as a result of the speed of the movement they were facing, but also because they had invested a huge amount of energy in the first 50 minutes playing so expansively as they had.

The All Blacks, under pressure, had found solutions and worked their way through a sticky period.

"We were a lot more effective defensively, I thought, from the 50th minute on," said Hansen. "With the ball in hand we were a lot better. We started to run strong and straight and that drew them in.

"Whenever you get something like this you learn something. For a young group to get that game on our own patch and have our own crowd behind them was ideal. Maybe if we had been somewhere else in front of 80,000 people who don't like you much it would have been a wee bit more pressure.

"We are not always going to get what we want and it would be remiss to say it was all about us and that we struggled. I thought Argentina played smart and they took the game to us. They had a real clear plan and they executed that well."

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