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All Black tempo just too fast?

2010-08-11 11:48

Rob Houwing

Well, well … what a change from one week to the next.

There we all were, spellbound by the All Blacks’ majestic 49-28 destruction of the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations Test in Melbourne less than two weeks ago, and even prepared to laud the losing outfit for their role in a high-speed rollercoaster ride.

After all, it’s not every day you witness a 10-try feast – even if the breakdown was a rather lopsided 7-3 in favour of Richie McCaw’s side – in any Test match featuring two of the planet’s leading powers.

Somehow the New Zealand performance, in particular, seemed to take rugby to exciting new levels, and as South Africans we were entitled to crank up further our nervousness about prospects of retaining the “Webb Ellis” next year … whatever the argument about the All Blacks traditionally peaking between rather than at World Cups.

I don’t know about you, but I started to breathe a little more easily after watching the immediate follow-up encounter between the Antipodean foes in Christchurch on Saturday.

In cricketing parlance, it was a little like watching a sixes-laden Twenty20 encounter the one week and then a tepid, five-day Test snore-draw on a heartless featherbed the next.

The return match, you see - which the All Blacks duly closed out professionally 20-10, let it be said - carried so little of the sparkle and dizzying pace that had marked the previous meeting.

Interestingly, it did start in a pretty similar, frenetic manner, with three tries comfortably within the first quarter of play … but then none more for the remaining hour-plus as the script seemed to lose its sting, and then some.

Just as tellingly, I thought, the legs of many of the participants seemed to “go” remarkably early.

There were players from both sides, and especially among the forwards, with their hands on their knees as early as the 20th minute, and general precision and slickness seemed to vanish thereafter with the proverbial bath water.

What we did get, it is true, was a demonstration by the All Blacks that their defensive shape and commitment has also come together again: the Wallabies bossed possession for much of the remainder of the contest but just could not punch meaningful holes, could they?

Chris Rattue put it fairly succinctly in the New Zealand Herald: “We should have been on the edge of our seats on Saturday, but as the drudgery wore on, the footrest came out and headrest eased into recliner mode.

“The Test match started out like the perfect poster for modern rugby, Southern Hemisphere style, yet went belly-up quicker than a Fancy Dan clothes shop in Newmarket.”

I couldn’t help wondering whether the All Blacks are sometimes just too good for themselves. (Or read: play with such panache and turbo-thrust one week that they are simply unable to sustain such heights the next.)

Think about it. In Melbourne there were jaw-dropping passages where the ball just did not go out of play, which went a long way to explaining why so many tries were scored.

And I almost suspected New Zealand redoubled their resolve to take quick throw-ins and then spin the ball from deep within their own territory, on the grounds of their traumas at the set lineout last year. (Although these have gone some way down the road to eradication anyway.)

The All Blacks are great global crowd-pleasers, and all praise to them for that, but could it just be that their expansive playing style from virtually all areas of the park -- geared toward a minimum of stoppages and maximum use of the space between the white lines to move the ball swiftly among hands up-field -- sometimes creeps up and bites them on their own bums?

Their players from one to 15 look extremely well-conditioned at present, but it is difficult not to suspect, all the same, that the “non-stop” style they favour must take an occasional toll on a few tight forwards, in particular.

More than any other modern international team, the New Zealanders are the likeliest to run opponents -- either top-tier or minnow – ragged on a good day.

They tend to exhibit this trend in the early stages of World Cups, where they have a very well-developed reputation for running up cricket scores in the group stage while similar-strength counterparts like the Boks may prevail in a slightly “uglier” or at least less flamboyant style.

But come the key knockout phase, of course, and it is almost as if the All Blacks suddenly run out of puff, famously coming an unexpected cropper somewhere ahead of the final, which they haven’t visited since 1995 at Ellis Park.

I pose the question once more: is New Zealand’s high-tempo, dash-from-all-angles approach subconsciously their own worst enemy, drip-feeding a gradual element of fatigue?

Oh yes, and while this should not be viewed as any special confidence on my part of a Springbok win, I am mightily interested to see whether the All Blacks can repeat their sustained Melbourne fluidity in the thin Highveld air next weekend if they do opt for a similarly cavalier playing style …

Rob is Sport24's chief writer

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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Comments
  • Vito - 2010-08-11 12:05

    Rob, your comments have merit but there is something different about the Kiwis this year. In the past they have relied heavilly on impact players and a few individuals in their side to find the gaps (or in Lomu's case, the bad defence) on attack. This time around it seems as if the whole team has the potential to run circles around their opponents. They are better balanced than ever and they have ironed out their past weaknesses. I still think we can beat them, but we have to retain possession and do some serious thinking about our defensive patterns. We seem to loose it after 5 phases. We also need to start dominating their lineouts again to dry out their possession and be more commited at the breakdown and counter rucks.

  • GW - 2010-08-11 12:19

    Blah blah blah blah blah, here we go again. What is interesting is to see how a team can chnage a game plan so quickly to suite the day and the ref. The AB's dont have only one game plan, they might have 2 or more but what u should rather look at is how they play on the day. Go All Black's

  • Llewellyn - 2010-08-11 12:32

    An interesting analogy. I guess we'll have to wait and see what Graham Henry has to offer strategically for the WC2011. It will however be toughr for the AB's to choke in their own backyard. None the less, I think we're in for a dramatic and exciting upcoming WC.

  • skywalker - 2010-08-11 12:54

    The AB's are over-conditioned thoroughbreds who will choke due to the pressure on them in their own back yard.

  • Realistic - 2010-08-11 13:05

    This argument has little substance as the AB's rarely ever field many of their top 15 in the opening rounds of the world cup... therefore siting fatigue as the reason for world cup failure is ridiculous. However, notice in their world cup bow out to France, what seemed to sink them was their change in style to be completely defensive / conservative after building up a lead in the first 20 minutes with their natural attacking style of play. The All Blacks tried to defend a lead rather than carry on attacking which allowed France to gain momentum. This is in total contradiction to their natural style of play. Same thing in 2003 in the world Cup against Aus, where the early Mortlock intercept resulted in the All Blacks playing an overly conservative game instead of sticking to their natural style... I believe they should stick to what they do best! Possession, Pace and Calculated Attack.

  • Etienne - 2010-08-11 13:09

    Rob, I dont know if your argument here is watertight. Sure, maybe the All Blacks get bitten in the backsides by their style of play, now and then, perhaps when things don't go their way or perhaps when the opposition defends really well. However, how many test matches have they won playing scintillating rugby? Generally when you score more tries in a test match than your opposition you win. Granted, it may be risky at times but look at their record. I'm simply amazed at their running, contact and their brilliant passing skills. These skills are developed at prep school level and this is where we go wrong. Too much emphasis in SA on size and winning, teach them to pass and use space! That is where the All Blacks are miles ahead!

  • Greegs - 2010-08-11 13:27

    I can't make head or tail out of this article? The AB's have always played a high tempo game, how can this be a weakness? They are a class side at the moment and we should be praising them rather than questioning style. They starve their opposition of ball, defend like kings, steal ball and score out wide......S.I.M.P.L.E. The Boks kick away too much possession and expect to score points without ball....DUH

  • THE VOICE - 2010-08-11 13:37

    As always an interesting article Bob. I however beg to differ ... think the AB's failure during previous RWC's were mostly due to the "unexpected eager thrusts" of their opponents .. particularly the French! The AB's current ace is their magnificent ability to launch the counter attack ... so swiftly, with such speed and almost magical "re alignment" of players position ... that it simply overwhelms opponents! Way ... way too swiftly and devastating for the BOKS in any case! I am afraid this time they are simply way too far ahead of our lethargic, methodical and "lack of collective" approach and attitude. The guys in Black is on a mission ... their speed, thrust and tempo have killed us ... good grief ... i hope we have taken seriously notice of it ... if not ... cry me a HUGE MOUNTAIN!

  • DW - 2010-08-11 13:40

    The pressure on them in their own back yard will be so intense it is hard to believe they wont choke. If we upset the apple cart in the remain match. which we must or they will be well on their way to break the 16 match record, it will even the playing fields again and return the pressure. Never write off the importanace of England and France in griding down oppenents in the group phases.

  • Teegs - 2010-08-11 14:36

    Strange, why focus so much ineterest on the oponent. Should SA rugby fans not ponder why their team is not fairing so well! Start doing the basics, get Habana to catch a ball (only in Outsurance ads), get Spies to defend (only in Outsurance ads)....get the picture? I believe AB's lost vital games because other teams picked up their own games, SA should do the same.

  • Emile - 2010-08-11 14:40

    They know they have won the cup, there is no need to play 100% everyweek. They scored their 3 tries and then defended, they knew they would not be breached.

  • Frans - 2010-08-11 14:53

    I think the All Blacks are playing a wonderful brand of rugby. Yes they were a bit off pace in Christchurch, but let's also take our hats of to the Wallabies for putting up a huge fight. However don't read to much into the game destined for Soccer City. I think that the Boks must start to play rugby for a change and stop whining about erything. Last year the law interpretations suit their kick and chase game, not so anymore. Looking forward to them trying to use some skills and not just try to kick and hope for the best.

  • Theuns - 2010-08-11 15:06

    Apologies for being the one (and only) to comment on the other people's comments, but it's the first time that everybody actually comment on the article instead of on the other comments. And interesting comments too. Great, we're getting somewhere! Makes for interesting reading all round..

  • Impi - 2010-08-11 15:29

    Beware a humble All Black side ...

  • Nick - 2010-08-11 15:44

    Good article - The All Blacks are setting the bench mark in world rugby at the moment - they are playing a total 15 man game where everyone is contributing - they hunt as a pack - the rest of the world is playing catch up - we can't rely on the fact that they may choke come World Cup time - we need to match them with more possession (starting with our lineouts) - be better on attack - and really work on our defensive game - otherwise it is a one horse race.

  • MJ - 2010-08-11 19:59

    Bear in mind that as far as this current Wallabies side is concerned - they probably played to the best of their ability and form. They gave this game 110%: Losing 9x in a row to little brother NZ is just so embarassing - they did everything they could do to win but they just aren´t good enough right now. I do think the ABs were a bit complacent as well - given that the Trinations was virtually in the bag. The ABs did what they needed too this time round, nothing else. However I can´t wait to see how they perform in the next AB/Boks game - I think we´ll get a real gripper going on this time.

  • TerryG - 2010-08-11 20:07

    After the 20th minute the Wallabies retained the majority of possession, want to know how to beat the AB's? Unfortunately Div has not learnt the lesson and we go into the balance of the series without a true fetcher.

  • Long John - 2010-08-11 20:30

    never mind AB's tempo too fast etc. They are top of the IRB standings for most of the time which means the best team in world rugby for most of the time, even not winning that many world cups. Fullstop..

  • So What? - 2010-08-11 20:59

    @ Etienne - well said. Our players think they can run through an opponent. Our handling skills and ball retention is below par - and these are basic skills which as you say should have been developed at prep school level. I have said it often, I dream of the day we can produce a fly half in the mould of those Welsh greats like Phil Bennett, Barry John and Jonothan Davies. What silky foot work! The AB's are a well balanced side at the moment, and if they carry on getting better, well will we ever catch up?

  • NZKiwi - 2010-08-12 05:40

    @ MJ, I dont think its embarrasing for the wallabies not having beaten the all blacks in 9 games. ask most teams in world rugby and they will tell you beating the AB's only 1 out of 10 times is by no means shamefull.

  • All Black - 2010-08-12 09:16

    They've had a good rest and will give it to the Boks next week Saturday. In RWC 2011 they play France, Tonga, Japan and Canada. One tough game, which means that they will give their key players limited game time and use them for the big matches, thereby keeping up their high tempo rugby. How awesome it is to watch rugby played by the best team in the world! Go All Blacks!

  • Jon - 2010-08-12 11:21

    Doesn't it strike you as tragic that the #1 key wish of Bok fans really isn't to see them take on and beat the ABs in the world cup? Instead, it's a fervent wish that they "choke" to some lesser team and so let the Boks through by default, without the terror of actually facing them! And to imagine that any AB failure against anyone somehow translates into a Bok success? Boy, that really is a LOSER mentality!

  • Donny - 2010-08-13 08:16

    The world cup, so what. The all blacks are the best there ever will be. We all know that any world cup is a money making scheme only. All everyone else is saying when they lose to the AB's is that we are peaking too early, they will choke when the world cup starts, rubbish. What willl happen when there is no longer a world cup, or when the AB's start winning every world cup. What will you say then? The springboks lose consistently and they use the excuse that they are building for the world cup. You cannot build for a world cup as it is a overhyped tournament that only one team can win. For this to happen this team needs loads of luck as well and somehow this is something that the springboks has an abundance of, and the all blacks has none. So guys forget about the world cup and try to catch us at number one. We are the most consistent team in the world, any sport.

  • Dragonpig - 2010-08-13 10:08

    I don't want the AB's to choke, I would love the Boks to beat them en route to the final. Everyone saying how AB's rest their top players in WC and give them limited game time, that is why they fail later on, the top players are starved of game time and the world cup is a different beast and far more physical and high pressure, the top guys need the group stage games to build on. Most importantly, All Blacks are peaking right now, remember how they all said the Boks were peaking too early? All Blacks are at their peak and it is early but maybe they can maintain it? we'll have to see come 2011. 400 or so days is a long time as well so all teams can watch, analyze, and counter that game plan, Darren Scott said it on boots and all, kick the ball out! Don't go for 65m kicks down their throat or 60m kicks that they can take a quick throw in, take a 45-50m even a 40m kick and kick it dead and pressure their line out. Just don't give them possesion in open space. . . Anyway come the world cup I hope we've managed to peak by then and also I think we should have adapted our game by then, Australia too, and that team will be devestating in 2015 with their youth so it's all about how well we can adapt and if they AB's keep up this game, if SA adapts and the All Blacks keep this game up then wow what a game we will have

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