Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Fatigue the biggest issue for the All Blacks

Pendulum will swing as rugby rivals learn from lopsided losses.
Wins won't come as easily for the All Blacks as the test season continues. Photo / Brent Phibbs
Wins won't come as easily for the All Blacks as the test season continues. Photo / Brent Phibbs

If there's a bit of angst building at the ease with which the All Blacks are winning and the general lack of competitiveness in test rugby as a consequence, best to park it all now.

The current situation won't last and, when the All Blacks are being pushed to the wire, or even losing a few as they almost certainly will, then there might be some regret that the good times weren't enjoyed.

The All Blacks have made a cracking start to the season. So good that even head coach Steve Hansen admitted to being surprised at how quickly and effectively Kieran Read had stamped his mark on the team and driven them to new levels.

They have played supremely good rugby for extended periods and no one " not Wales, Australia, Argentina or South Africa has been able to live with them past 60 minutes of any given test.

In the process, various voices have proclaimed the end is nigh for test football as a meaningful entity.

The Boks and Wallabies have heard about every insult they possibly could and calendars have been studied to see just how long it might be before the All Blacks lose another test.

All of that is a touch premature and presents a big face on which plenty of egg could be thrown, because the All Blacks have now reached the tricky part of the season: the period where a number of factors combine to radically increase their vulnerability and make the first half of the year seem like the exception, not the rule.

The biggest new entrant will be fatigue. It will kick in for some players at some stage in the next few months.

Think back to Super Rugby and how intense the local derby games, in particular, were. The Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders all pushed through to the semis and the latter two had to play in South Africa. The Crusaders only made the quarters but they also had to wing it to the Republic and it's not realistic to imagine that so much rugby and so much travel isn't going to impact individuals.

The coaches are going to have to pre-empt that and tinker " use the likes of Codie Taylor, Luke Romano, Liam Squire, Lima Sopoaga and Elliot Dixon a little more and hope they can be introduced without derailing the momentum of the collective.

There's also the whole business of playing away from home to factor in.

The All Blacks have only had to do that once so far this year. The remainder of their season will see them play six offshore, at hostile and challenging venues. That alone will increase the difficulty component.

And, perhaps most significantly, there is the quality of the opposition to think about.

The Boks will get better quickly. The Wallabies are already an improved team on where they were just a few weeks ago and Ireland will be fresh and hungry when they meet the All Blacks twice in November.

If the last few weeks have been all so boring and turgid, no one need worry " the back half of the season will see the All Blacks forced to scrap and scramble to get the results they want.

The international game won't look so mundane and broken by November and there might be more than a few people yearning for the good old days when the All Blacks turned up and tanked everyone.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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