Gregor Paul: All Blacks have substance over style

Beauden Barrett is the composer of the All Blacks attack. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Beauden Barrett is the composer of the All Blacks attack. Photo / Brett Phibbs

England coach Eddie Jones is talking about his determination to not emulate the All Blacks' style. England, he says, need to develop their own way of playing and not get caught up in trying to adopt a gameplan that is a replica of New Zealand's.

He's right in one sense - England need to develop a gameplan that suits their athletes and exaggerates their strengths. But he's wrong in suggesting that the All Blacks have developed a specific style.

They haven't. What they have done is develop their individual skills to unprecedented levels that has enabled them to play any way they feel like.

It is not so much a style as the collective impact of having so many players capable of so many things. Coach Steve Hansen doesn't necessarily have a fixed view on how he wants his team to play as such.

Build a specific style and it doesn't take long for opposition teams to work it out and build effective strategies to combat it.

What he wants is for the All Blacks to create and then exploit space. It's that simple. How they go around doing that is dependent on the opposition, the weather, the referee and any other number of influences.

To give them the best chance of being able to create space, the All Blacks believe they need to have exceptionally high skill levels. If they can pass, run and kick with precision under the most intense pressure, then they can be effective. They can pick the right strategy to suit the situation.

If they can get off the line quickly, hold their shape and make their tackles, then they can apply pressure through the quality of their defence. And underpinning it all, is their set-piece. It has to function - they have to be able to win their lineout ball and hold the scrum steady.

It has looked for most of this year like the All Blacks are wedded to a pass and run game and have a definitive view that they should be looking to attack from almost everywhere.
But that's not really how it is. That's their preferred mode of playing - to keep the ball in hand, offload out of the tackle and stretch the defence from touchline to touchline.

No side they have played this year has been able to contain them or put them under pressure for long enough to force them into thinking about a different way of playing.

But if they have adopt a more conservative, territory-driven kicking game - they can do it.

And this is why the gap between the All Blacks and everyone else, including England, is significant at the moment.

New Zealand's players, all of them, are absurdly comfortable on the ball. They can give and take a pass; they can offload, they can tackle, they can support ball carriers and they can make good decisions. They have a supremely high base level of athleticism and aerobic fitness which allows them to execute the basics accurately late in the game.

So Jones and England can adamantly plough their own path and suggest there is nothing for them to learn from the All Blacks. They can talk of developing their own style and being quintessentially English while scoffing at the folly of other nations who see New Zealand and want to be like New Zealand.

But if they want to be the best side in the world they have no choice but to be a little bit like New Zealand and develop their basic skills to the same level and build a gameplan that is flexible.

- NZ Herald

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