Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: All Blacks fizz in danger of going flat

As a fantastic test rugby season came to a close for New Zealand, another victory somehow managed to leave a nagging feeling that despite all the achievements and accolades, something is amiss.

For my money, the All Blacks' coaching/selection panel needs a shake up in the name of preventative action. Steve Hansen, Ian Foster, Wayne Smith, Grant Fox and support staff have done a magnificent job, but the fizz of 2016 is in danger of going flat.

The heavy reliance on the chip and chase and cross-field kicks against France at Stade de France was a concession more than a legitimate tactic, of a team which has run out of ideas and lost confidence in its ability to keep the ball and build attacks.

Hansen's side have been badly outplayed in certain areas on this tour, most notably by more athletic and attack minded loose forwards in the Irish and French teams who also have more dynamic ball-carrying props. France had the fresh appeal in Paris, with the All Blacks cast as dour and afraid on attack.

The All Blacks can point to the scoreboard and knack for winning plays, but if they keep on this route without the ball, they will fall.

And as was clear in Paris, the peerless gifts of a player like Anton Lienert-Brown are shamefully wasted by a game plan built on obsessive kicking, Lienert-Brown's prospects hurt further by the tiring business of endless tackling.

With all the athletic talent at their disposal, repeatedly kicking the ball away should not be the All Blacks' way.

The final test of the year reinforced why a fit Sonny Bill Williams would mean so much to the All Blacks in certain situations, why Ma'a Nonu - surprisingly - may be the departed veteran who is missed the most.

Will the ageing SBW return to best form, after a major injury? Who knows? But the All Blacks lacked influential midfield punch with their forwards often struggling.

At halftime, I thought the All Blacks were facing defeat. As per usual, they avoided it. France were fantastic at times, flooding in support of the ball carrier, offloading, and causing all sorts of problems. Maybe inexperience cost the home side against the best scrambling defence in the game.

Yes, the All Blacks find a way to keep opponents out, the Chicago defeat excepted. But if they keep playing this game, it is bound to come unstuck particularly if key players are absent, as we found out at Soldier Field.

Winning in Paris with a tired team missing Ben Smith and Sam Cane in particular is no mean feat. It is mightily impressive.

But the All Blacks seem to have run up the white allowing other teams to dominate the ball.

You can see major trouble ahead against the Lions and at the World Cup, if opponents keep charging at them. A fresh voice is needed around the selection/coaching table, to find a new way.

Once again, I would also question captain Kieran Read's contribution. It's not what he's doing, but what he's not doing.

In American gridiron terms, Read is like a one man special teams unit, challenging superbly at lineout, winning his own throws and chasing kickoffs. But he is doing nothing to get the All Blacks on the front foot, or break opposing defences down. He looks like a man using his wiles to stay in the game, obscuring the fact that his acceleration and power are fading.

Overall, test rugby is in a magnificent state in marked contrast to the dross which lies beneath it in the southern hemisphere.

The All Blacks have to be applauded for their ambition in 2016, with Barrett and Dane Coles the outstanding figures in terms of flamboyance, Lienert-Brown a potential midfield maestro on the rise, and Israel Dagg performing an exceptional comeback.

This final fling in Paris was another nail biting contest, not of the highest attacking quality, but with a dramatic edge at an amazing venue. Pulsating, magnetic.

That opponents can dominate possession adds to the drama for New Zealand fans because it feels as if the All Blacks are continually ready to crack. Maybe they will.

- NZ Herald

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