On Monday morning, the All Blacks will leave for Tokyo and a short training camp in Kashiwa, about 50km northwest of the Japanese capital, carrying the World Cup hopes of a nation and one or two strategies about how to break what will likely be a cloying defence in the knockout matches.

The British & Irish Lions provided the template in 2017 and Ireland, England, Wales and South Africa in particular have recently shown how hard they can be to get through or past. In the near claustrophobic pressure of the sudden-death matches starting next month, creating one or two opportunities, and, crucially, finishing them, will be the difference between progressing and going home.

Four years ago in the United Kingdom, the All Blacks built slowly during the pool matches (after surviving a scare against Argentina), by refusing to reveal their full repertoire of attacking tricks. "Full menu" is what coach Steve Hansen described it then, and much of it revolved around their kicking game.

Nothing was off the table once the All Blacks faced France in the quarterfinal in Cardiff, however, and that contrived to blow the French off the Millennium Stadium pitch, although the excitement of playing in a sudden-death match almost certainly contributed to that far higher level of performance from Hansen's men.


The defensive strategies of top international teams have improved significantly since, with line speed a big part of that, but Hansen believes the tide will turn. And yes, he is confident his side have the players and strategies to play a part in that attacking renaissance – to "crack the nut", he called it - in Japan.

"We've certainly got some talented people," Hansen said in Hamilton this week. "Our game is about using the ball and using a triple-threat game. That's the thing that pleased me the most about the Aussie game [at Eden Park recently]. We kicked well and ran and passed well. We did those three things really well; you can't just do one.

"The kicking game is about shaping the defensive line and if you've got a poor kicking game then the defence doesn't have to worry about it. If you've got a sharp kicking game then they have to re-adjust how they want to defend and that might create a bit more space."

Defence of top international teams have improved significantly, but Steve Hansen believes the tide will turn. Photo / Photosport
Defence of top international teams have improved significantly, but Steve Hansen believes the tide will turn. Photo / Photosport

Hansen added: "I think there's definitely been a swing or bias towards defence. Because of that then everyone thinks we [top international teams] are closer than we probably really are. But someone's going to crack that nut – the defensive nut that needs to be cracked – because history tells us that will happen.

"When it does then it will open up the floodgates for the attacking game to become strong again and everyone will say there's a bias towards the attacking game and they will go away and work harder on defence.

"That's been the nature of the game – toing and froing – for a long, long time. I'm looking forward to that nut being cracked."

It doesn't take a genius to assume the use of Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett as dual playmakers, a ball-playing pack, a variety of kicking options and an up-tempo game plan will provide the basis of the All Black nutcracking strategy. Neither would it surprise to see a game plan against Tonga at Waikato Stadium consisting of solely catch, pass, and intelligent running lines.

And while the South Africa game on September 21 is looming as potentially the most pivotal World Cup pool match they have played, the question is not whether they will attempt to change things up during the tournament, but when.


It's possible the All Blacks will attempt to beat the Boks with a ruthless adherence to the basics while keeping one or two things under wraps. The same will apply for the other pool games against Canada, Namibia and Italy.

Hansen was asked this week: Can you crack the nut? "Hope so," he replied.

Pressed, he said: "I think so, yeah."

Don't be fooled by his reticence; Hansen is confident he has the right men and plans to make life difficult for any team they play over the next few months.