The All Blacks have become like the little girl in the Longfellow poem in that when they are good, they are very, very good and when they are bad, they are horrid.

This whole Jekyll and Hyde thing they have going on isn't so easy to love. Split personalities work well in fictional novels, not so much for international rugby sides, if for no other reason than it makes it an exercise in frustration trying to work out whether the All Blacks' performance in Paris ended up in the red or black on the performance balance sheet.

You shouldn't really need a calculator and a prolonged debate about whether the team played well or not, but that's what happened after the All Blacks scored four clinical tries in the first half and then conceded 11 penalties and barely touched the ball in the second.

Brilliant one minute, awful the next. The instinct is probably to worry more about the second half than to celebrate the first. The discipline simply collapsed. So too did ball retention and it wasn't just for a minute or two. It was for 39 minutes until Waisake Naholo scored on the final whistle.


The worrying bit was the sense the All Blacks were drifting, being pushed in the wrong direction by a rising panic and there wasn't anyone on deck to set a different course.

It was bad luck that Kieran Read's groin tightened and forced him off just as the French were finding their rhythm. The All Blacks needed their skipper on the field at that very point in time, but there was still enough experience elsewhere to be a little alarmed that no one was able to take control and instil calm and accuracy.

The All Blacks needed a hero and no one fancied it. Instead, the errors simply compounded and the confidence drained further.

If this was the first time we had seen that this season then maybe it would be easy enough to shrug and forget about it.

But this was by no means a one off. The All Blacks had a sustained horrible period in the second half against the Wallabies in Sydney; another in Dunedin, a rotten 20-minute period in New Plymouth against Argentina and now 40 ugly, ugly minutes in Paris.

The concern isn't the lack of quality per se, it is the way panic and fear so easily take hold and prove so difficult to expel.

In Paris, as was the case in Sydney, Dunedin and New Plymouth, the team locked into a negative spiral that they seemed powerless to resist.

The good ship All Blacks becomes a little like the Marie Celeste and the only reason they avoided crashing into the rocks at Stade de France was because of the 40 miraculously good minutes they had produced in the first half.


And that's why it is so hard to assess whether to be glass half full or half empty with this All Blacks side. They ultimately won because of their brilliance which is why head coach
Steve Hansen is going with the former and while he may be in danger of being branded a broken record, he keeps coming back to the lack of experience and youthfulness of his team as the reason to why they are so volatile.

The absence of Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Brodie Retallick, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith is robbing the All Blacks in excess of 300 test caps, their vice captain and three members of their leadership group.

"I know it is going to happen," he says of the sticky periods his side keeps encountering. "You take out Ben Smith who brings a lot of wisdom and calmness and then look at the other players who are not here and you have to replace experience with inexperience.

"Throughout the year different things have happened so they are learning and growing. At some point were are going to have to learn because it is going to cost us a match.

"But it is all part and parcel of having a group who are not as experienced as the group we used to have. You can't buy that experience. You have to earn it so as coaches we have to be patient. We can't get too frustrated by it all and we still scored five tries so it is not too bad a day at the office.

"I don't want to take away the high expectations we have of ourselves but we have to bank the positives."

He's probably right but for peace of mind it would be best if the All Blacks finish this tour with two emphatic performances that are all Dr Jekyll and not so much Mr Hyde.

* Gregor Paul travelled to Paris courtesy of Air New Zealand.