All Blacks' flaws exposed

2010-09-12 10:59

Wellington - New Zealanders on Sunday celebrated the All Blacks' historic six-game clean sweep of the Tri-Nations, but questions were raised about the depth of talent in the side.

While Richie McCaw was hailed as skipper, fingers were pointed at players around him after the All Blacks fought back with two late tries to beat the Wallabies 23-22 in Sydney on Saturday.

It was a record 10th consecutive win over the Australians and the All Blacks also wrapped up the southern hemisphere rugby crown for the 10th time in the 15-year history of the tournament.

The All Blacks are the first team to sweep the competition since it was extended to three home and away matches, but a year away from the World Cup the victory also exposed a lack of depth, according to Sunday Herald rugby writer Gregor Paul.

"They are not quite the complete side everyone thought they were," wrote Paul.

"They have their unbeaten record intact. They have inflicted more pain on the Wallabies and showed that uncanny ability to escape defeat when hope was fading.

"But those on the periphery have more ground to make up than anyone realised and injury to key players could easily derail this team."

The notable problem areas were at flyhalf, where celebrated All Blacks playmaker Daniel Carter is on the injured list, and at blindside flank, where Jerome Kaino was on the bench to give Victor Vito much-needed game time.

The highly touted Aaron Cruden started in the number 10 jersey and struggled to come to terms with the accuracy required at Test level.

"If this was an experiment for (coach Graham) Henry, albeit a forced one, it demonstrated vividly that this young man (Cruden) is not yet up to this level of rugby," Marc Hinton wrote in the Sunday Star-Times, while stressing the positives.

"For a team chasing perfection this was far from perfect. But who cared? The All Blacks once again showed that they have nerves of steel and superb mental strength as they kept their remarkable run for 2010 alive."

Former All Blacks captain Taine Randall, in his Sunday News column, gave credit to Kaino, who came on for the final quarter to replace Vito.

"It's that hard edge in the tight work that he brings to the forward pack and it balances the loose forward trio," Randall said.

"When he came on the All Blacks game plan changed and with it the tempo and level of performance. His introduction and play was crucial to the All Blacks turning things around."

Sean Fitzpatrick, who saw McCaw overtake his record 51 appearances as All Blacks captain in the match, wrote in his Sunday Herald column that it was the team's self-belief that made the difference.

"I'm not sure they would have won a game like this 12 months ago. But there's a real belief about this side and they came out on top despite the absence of Daniel Carter and despite the number of changes made to what had been a settled side."

The one All Black consistently singled out for praise was McCaw, who took "another stride towards All Blacks immortality", according to Hinton.

"Probably the biggest reason these All Blacks are so cool under pressure has to do with the man leading the fightbacks.

"A record breaker, and a game shaker. That's the man who must now be considered one of the greatest All Black captains of all time."