Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All Blacks hatching plan to storm November

The All Blacks will be looking for a balanced schedule in 2017 to avoid scenes like this against Ireland. Photo / Getty
The All Blacks will be looking for a balanced schedule in 2017 to avoid scenes like this against Ireland. Photo / Getty

Whether the All Blacks play England in early November or not, the coaching team are still puzzling their way through how to tackle the last nine weeks of the season.

Whatever the schedule ends up looking like, the All Blacks want to see their performance curve at least hold steady, if not rise through to the end of the year.

To that end, they are working through a number of scenarios on how they can best find the zip and energy they will need in their last few tests. Among the ideas being explored, are whether to take a reduced squad to Argentina for the Rugby Championship test in late September. Will they need to take all of their heavy artillery, or could some experienced players who will have had ample game time by then and plenty more to come, stay at home?

Some of the younger players taken to Argentina could fly back to New Zealand after the test and those who skipped Argentina, could head to South Africa for the test on October 7.

It is possible that some players who endure a heavy workload through Super Rugby and the earlier test programme, could skip going to Argentina and South Africa all together.

It's not a radical plan by any means, but it is as least a way to reduce some of the travel burden for some of the players.

Injecting a game against England on November 4 will sharpen the thinking around player management through that period because the All Blacks will be determined to be at their best at Twickenham.

If the test goes ahead, there can't be any excuses about fatigue or travel - it will be all on the line and the All Blacks will be conscious that if they keep their top players buzzing until then, they will have a chance to catch England cold as it will be their first test of the new Northern Hemisphere season.

Finishing the season on an epic note has been a struggle for the All Blacks in recent years and they want 2017 to be the start of a new era where they find the magic formula to keeping players mentally and physically fresh so the intensity of the collective effort doesn't dip.

Since 2012 and the reskinning of the Rugby Championship to include Argentina, the All Blacks have been asked to play seven tests in the last nine weeks of the season, a period in which they also have to travel around the world twice.

It's a huge challenge, particularly as they reach the last few games, to raise their performance and take on opponents who are often slipping nicely into top gear.

The All Blacks' performances in that tail period have told the story of how difficult it is to play that much football in such a short period across so many time zones.

In 2012 they finished the Rugby Championship with a crushing defeat of the Springboks, only to draw with Australia in Brisbane in a performance they would say was their worst for a long time and then of course, they were well beaten by England in the final test of the year.

In 2013, they held together well, until the last test against Ireland when they had to pull off the greatest late escape in the history of the game. And last year they were fortunate to beat Australia in the last Bledisloe test and then fell to Ireland in their next game.

In their final test, they showed huge character to beat France, but the it was a struggle mostly because they weren't competing well enough in the core areas.

There is a correlation between the toughness of the schedule and the All Blacks' performances. In 2012, they had to play Australia in the sweltering heat of Brisbane after they returned from South Africa, before taking on four Tier one nations back to back in Europe.

The following year when they managed to play better, they had their third clash with Australia at home and then had a relatively soft test against Japan on the way to play three in Europe.

Again, in 2014, they made their lives a little easier by playing the USA en route to Europe.

It was with that pattern in mind that the New Zealand Rugby Union initially targeted a game against the Barbarians on November 4 this year. That would provide a playing opportunity for younger, less experienced players while also making the national body money.

That would alleviate some of the player welfare and performance issues. Obviously, if that opponent becomes England, the world's number two side, the All Blacks will have their best side on the park and will have to have a plan on how they can still perform at top gear in the next fixtures against France, Scotland and Wales.

- NZ Herald

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