NZ success depends on Carter
The poor first half performance of the All Blacks on Saturday underlined the importance of Daniel Carter to the success of the present All Black side.
I say this because in my estimation Carter’s lackluster performance is the one reason why the All Blacks struggled in that first half. While not taking anything away from a very potent Wallaby team on the day, there were at least two clear All Black tries that got away as a direct result of Carter’s underperformance.
On two occasions, the normally alert Carter did not pick up the very early rush defence of a Wallaby backline short on defenders out wide.
Under these circumstances the sharp-eyed option would have been to do the lob or skip pass to the players in the clear on the outside – it was evident from his reaction time in the situations I’m referring to that Carter was not really fired up for this game.
In fact, early on in the game he also threw a very poor pass to a team-mate under pressure which led to a scramble and a near break-out for the wallabies. Actually, the winning try for the Aussies came as a direct result of a poor Carter clearance that didn’t find touch.
If this match illustrated one thing, it is the importance of Daniel Carter to the All Black attacking game plan, especially where it pertains to the decision-making among the backs and his usual pin-point kicking game.
During that first half he definitely wasn’t on song, it rubbed off on his team-mates and the All Blacks struggled. The rock solid defence that kept the Springboks try-less last week suddenly succumbed to the Aussies with poor tackling (Adam Thompson’s tackle on Radike Samo is a case in point).
The second major element that stood out in the Aussies’ strategy to beat the All Blacks was how they took a leaf out of the Springboks’ (or is that Jaque Fourie’s) book by employing the rushed defence to close down the All Blacks’ dangerous backs out wide.
Last week Jaque Fourie saved two definite tries using the same tactic. The Wallabies used it with similar effect on Saturday - a different All Black backline from last week, but one who suffered the same fate.
Is this the way to beat the All Blacks? While it is most effective when it works (like Saturday) it can also be detrimental when a team is well-prepared for the rush defence and manage to evade it with intelligent passing and decision-making. Rush-up defence is indeed a knife with two sharp edges, the employment of which requires meticulous care and precision.
The final aspect that must have given the All Blacks (players and management) a major confidence boost on Saturday was the way they re-grouped at halftime, adapted their game plan and reigned in the wallabies until that poor clearance from Carter and a moment of absolute brilliance from Will Genia who dispatched Digby Ioane for the winning try.
The All Blacks scored perhaps one of the best tries of the Tri-Nations ever when they kept the ball through 27 phases until Nonu dived over under the posts. This demonstrated the All Blacks’ ability to play the slow controlled physical game when required – it is clear that the wily Henry is much better prepared for this RWC than the last one.
The All Blacks showed patience in breaking down the Aussie defence, an approach they will need when facing the French and again the Springboks if they make it through to the semi-finals.
So while two losses in a row might for some seem as not the ideal build-up to the RWC for the All Blacks, I have a sense that the All Blacks rather prefer it that way as this has shifted some of the pressure (with the odds to win the RWC) to the Wallabies and the Springboks.
Graham Henry now has enough ready-made motivation for his charges to revenge their last two defeats at the RWC where it will mean the world to them……no, let me rephrase; where it will mean the Rugby World Cup to them!
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player and current Afrikaans rugby commentator on SuperSport.
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