COMMENT

No nation knows how to clamber on board a defeat quite like New Zealand to try to sink all those involved without a trace.

A loss for the All Blacks it seems can never be just that. The vagaries of sport can never explain an All Blacks loss apparently and the notion that Ireland simply played better on the day isn't sitting well with many.

Nor is everyone willing to believe that defeat in Dublin represents just one test loss.

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Seemingly it is indicative or confirmation even that all is not well with the All Blacks and that they have been creaking and just about breaking for some time now.

Perspective might not be such a bad thing to inject at this point. Test matches are called test matches for a reason – they are a test of character, of resilience of creativity of whatever qualities are required to gain a victory and what may have been forgotten is that they are supposed to be hard.

Romping to big wins is supposed to be the exception not the norm and only the supremely arrogant would believe the All Blacks could go to Twickenham and rightfully expect to beat England with daylight between the two teams.

The margin of victory in tests is irrelevant – it is a win-or-lose scenario no more, no less. That the All Blacks won by a point says nothing other than they found a way to beat an excellent England side by a point.

Kieran Read made a few costly errors...but so did Brodie Retallick. Photo / Getty
Kieran Read made a few costly errors...but so did Brodie Retallick. Photo / Getty

That they did it on England's home turf where only one other team has won in the last three years, says the All Blacks have character and resilience and not that they are losing their touch because they beat Australia by heaps more.

The defeat in Dublin that followed confirmed the qualities of Ireland more than it did that the All Blacks are flailing.

Clearly, the All Blacks aren't quite right at the moment, but they are not fundamentally broken as some of the reactions would suggest.

They need to strike a better balance in their back three and get a better handle on whatever transition to their gameplan they have been trying to make.

They haven't quite found their attacking flow in the back half of the year – not against the best teams – but then again, they haven't been as contained as has been suggested.

They scored four tries in Pretoria and it was the way they found space and stretched England which generated their penalty opportunities.

And against Ireland, they created four clear-cut try-scoring chances. Three times they opened Ireland up and twice they blew the last pass and once they were denied a certain try by a truly heroic piece of covering by Peter O'Mahoney.

The All Blacks didn't get going the way they wanted, but nor were they impotent and without threat.

A bit of spit and polish and they could have won by a length as they botched an absolute sitter when Kieran Read couldn't gather his charge down of Jacob Stockdale's kick.

And Read is a topic in himself given the harsh judgement about his performance.

The inference from the post-match analysis is that the two big mistakes he made – the failure to gather the charge down and a terrible pass to no one when the All Blacks were in a promising spot – indicate that he's past it.

That's the sub-text coming through that Read's too old now, not the player he was or the player he needs to be to get the All Blacks through the World Cup next year.

Again, perspective is missing. He made two big errors but they shouldn't be attributed to age.

The All Blacks have taken a calculated risk to keep playing Read knowing he's not quite 100 per cent yet from major back surgery. But they believe he's on track to get there and turning up in all the places he's expected to be and doing everything that has been asked.

He'll forever be compared with the 2013 version of himself but his role has long been modified since then to suit the evolving needs of the team.

His predecessor, Richie McCaw, went through the same role evolution throughout his career and faced the same accusations a year out from a World Cup that he was on the slide.

McCaw proved the doubters wrong in 2015 and with Read likely to find some of his missing athleticism and agility in the pre-season, the All Blacks coaches have a high degree of confidence that the current skipper will deliver a similarly powerful finish to his career.

His performance in Dublin was otherwise strong. He was running as hard in the last minute as he was in the first.

He was always available and at no stage did he go missing. His work rate, fitness, willingness to be involved and lead by example – they were all apparent.

The attacking finesse was missing but so too was that the case when Beauden Barrett threw the ball to Rob Kearney, when Rieko Ioane tossed the ball wildly after making an electric break and when Brodie Retallick dropped the last pass of the game.

Accuracy and composure were missing in those critical moments across the team and not confined to Read.

Kieran Read could well rediscover his best form and fitness ahead of the Rughy World Cup. Photo / Getty
Kieran Read could well rediscover his best form and fitness ahead of the Rughy World Cup. Photo / Getty

He was outplayed by his opposite CJ Stander but that's what happens in big tests – sometimes the opposition have their day and why not confine the analysis to congratulating the Irish rather than castigating the All Blacks?

Read didn't have a great game but nor was he awful and what's maybe been missed in the hurry to throw him to the wolves is that he made a bold and decisive decision to kick for goal on 67 minutes.

There will be different views on whether it was the right or wrong call but the point surely is that he had the composure and certainty to make it, presumably calculating that the All Blacks would get the ball back and still have 12 minutes to score the points they needed.

Read was at the heart of the battle here he needed to be, he just didn't deliver on the accuracy and who knows, maybe he will lose his edge before the World Cup, but there is no reason to believe that right now.