The All Blacks playing battle that never was – RugbyPass

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Josh John previously played for the All Blacks in 2019 but hasn’t reached the same heights in the three years since. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

From the rising generation, not from both Stephen Perofeta nor Josh Ioane seem ready to command a Test yet. How new zealand has ended with no fizz or depth at No 10 is in stark contrast to what happened a decade ago.

It was a bit embarrassing situation 10 years ago that New Zealand could magic up world-class fly-halves from some seemingly endless conveyor belt of talent.

Back in 2011 they had Daniel Carter, arguably the greatest of them all, and literally no one else. He was the only man in the country who could pull on the All Blacks No 10 shirt and do the role justice and, of course, New Zealand discovered this at the World Cup when he was injured from the tournament before the final pool match .

The All Blacks somehow scrambled to victory, but that was really because of the sheer determination of Jerome Caino and Richie McCaw and the brilliance of the All Blacks behind three – Israel Day, Cory Jane and Richard Kahui – in catching high balls.

When Steve Hansen took over as head coach in 2012, he knew he had to find some new talent at number 10. Carter was 31, increasingly injured and the All Blacks could not expect to fulfill their ambition of being the most dominant team in the world if they only had one, older, albeit brilliant number 10 in their midst.

Even when Carter was fit, he wasn’t quite the automatic selection of old and the pressure he was under to deliver kept him hungry and driven to succeed.

Hansen brought in Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett. The plan was to gradually build up the playing time of both – but especially Cruden who had matured and developed since making his test debut in 2010.

Fate was cruel to Carter during that period as he suffered an endless run of horror injuries and rarely even managed to play consecutive Tests. However, Carter’s misfortune was Cruden’s gain and he earned enough playing time to reach the end of 2013 as a real contender.

By then, even when Carter was fit, he wasn’t quite the automatic selection of old and the pressure he was under to deliver kept him hungry and driven to succeed.

That pressure ensured that Carter’s skill set had to continue to grow as not only was Cruden breathing down his neck, but Barrett, in 2014, began to see what he could do in the no. 10 jersey and so of the cycle with one genuine No 10, the All Blacks had three in seemingly no time.

Even more incredible was that they probably had five men who were genuine Test players rather than both Colin Slade and Tom Taylor Tests began in that period so the injury crises were sometimes.

The strategy in building this depth of talent was relatively simple: Hansen backed up his veteran no. 10, but always gave one of the younger 10s, mostly Cruden, playing time off the bench and starts against lesser teams to stake their claim.

Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett both had plenty of opportunities to develop while playing under Daniel Carter. (Photo by Getty Images)

It wasn’t equal opportunity, but it was opportunity nonetheless, and the next generation could use their cameo appearances to put pressure on the established, senior players and it built real competition for places.

More than that, it forced everyone to develop their respective game and respond to the pressure they were put under. As current All Blacks coach Ian Foster, who was in charge of the backs in 2012, said in Steve Hansen: The Legacy: “That was an intense process to watch the seniors.

“It became one of the most important things we did and Steve led that and it was a great strength of his – the challenge of his seniors. It didn’t really matter how many Tests you played, the feeling at the All Blacks – and he was the head trainer of that – is that you get more growth in people when they have to learn something, when they are stimulated by doing something that they are not good at at the moment.

“Finding areas to really challenge our seniors to grow and get better became a key point. If there was resistance, the time was spent on that resistance to say to a player, ‘You have to move . We need your game to continue and it needs to grow.’

“That was part of the art of coaching – driving the senior players because you can’t expect them to drive the younger players if they’re not challenged to grow their game themselves.

“We didn’t think like when is the time to move them on, but when do we think they will stop learning. I don’t think the older players felt the pressure of having younger players nipping at their heels , but they certainly would have felt the pressure from us to grow their game and if they didn’t grow their game, then there was a bit of unrest.”

When Foster took over as coach in 2020, the public narrative was focused almost exclusively on the idea of ​​a ding-dong, exciting battle between these two.

Ironically, this failure to keep the pressure on the seats has been one of the major problems of the Foster era.

There is not growth from many players and that is largely because he has not offered the next generation enough opportunity to build pressure on the incumbent.

And nowhere has this been more painfully witnessed than at number 10, where two world-class talents in Barrett and Mo’unga have simply not fired or progressed over the last two years.

When Foster took over as coach in 2020, the public narrative was focused almost exclusively on the idea of ​​a ding-dong, exciting battle between these two.

There were those who said Barrett, who had been moved to fullback in 2019 to take the concept of dual play to the World Cup, should have stayed there as Mo’unga was the better option to fly -half to play.

Beauden Barrett et al Richie Mo’unga played in tandem throughout the 2019 season. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The little one Crusaders maestro was the star of Super Rugby year after year, his fourth title won in 2020. Inadvertently smart in how he runs forward and alive to all attacking opportunities, Mo’unga seemed ready to be in 2020.

But Barrett made it public that he no longer wanted to play at fullback and he had his eye on reclaiming his No.10 jersey.

The media lapped it up and hyped it up, building this story of two heavyweights of the game going head-to-head for one spot on the team.

Everyone thought the All Blacks couldn’t go wrong: that they could pick both players and if they were smart, they could use the two of them to build pressure on each other.

The competition would inspire them to greater heights and by the World Cup the All Blacks would have two brilliant No 10s they could use in any way they pleased.

The bigger problem, however, has been that the All Blacks’ attacking play has not worked against the best sides. They lost their form against Ireland in Dublin last year and have not found it again.

However, it simply hasn’t happened, and that’s partly because the selection policy for Mo’unga has been arbitrary and potentially demotivating.

He got the start in 2020 as Barrett missed much of Super Rugby to have an extended rest. He probably played the best game of his career in the 43-5 demolition of Australia in Sydney, but was then rewarded by dropping to the bench the following week.

Everyone understood that Foster wanted to give Barrett a chance and with only six games that year, he felt that the game in Brisbane was the right one to do so. But it appeared that Mo’unga’s confidence was shot.

The bigger problem, however, has been that the All Blacks’ attacking play has not worked against the best sides. They lost their form against Ireland in Dublin last year and have not found it again.

The nadir was probably the loss to the Springboks in Mbombela. For 78 minutes, the All Blacks didn’t look like they were going to score a try – and only did, really, because the Springboks were down to 14 men. Kurt-Lee Arendse got a red card.

A late game surge out Caleb Clarke produced the All Blacks’ only try in their 16-point loss to the Springboks at Mbombela. (Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

If Aaron Smith said afterwards: “What went wrong was our ability to build pressure with the ball.

“We missed our cleanouts, they were just too good on the ball and then we had a couple of chances to break them down and we couldn’t get it done.

“Their ability to wake the tackle and get on the ball really quickly was what they were really good at at times. And then just our discipline to build pressure … we’d win a moment and then make a mistake and in their half we would turn the ball over, or a bad pupil or a simple knock on.

The breakdown was one fundamental problem that occupied the All Blacks and the other was the inability of the backline to play at the right depth to create the appropriate width.

And, arguably, this has been the problem that has prevented the All Blacks from sparking their attacking game these past two years and why the Barrett vs Mo’unga story has never been anything other than media hype.

The All Blacks – New Zealand teams in general – will have to swallow their pride and be prepared to play more behind the scoreline to give themselves more time on the ball.

New Zealand have lost the ability to figure out how to tune their back lines in the face of rush defences. The natural tendency is to take the ball close to the gain line and trust the micro skills to deliver under pressure. It’s definitely the way to go when the passing and catching is crisp, the footwork electric and the timing bang-on.

But it’s a lot of things to get right in the face of the extreme pressure that comes with defenders blitzing off the line and the All Blacks – New Zealand teams in general – will need their pride lick and be ready to play more behind the winning line to give themselves more time on the ball.

Mo’unga effectively said as much even after the 26-10 loss in Mbombela.

“It’s difficult. There’s a method to their madness with their high-speed pressure,” he said of the Springboks.

“Things that we talked about to combat that, we didn’t do well at all. A little bit of depth, width, variation in your attack; kicking, passing, all these kinds of things help.”

The All Blacks backs have struggled to generate much on offense for the better part of the last 12 months. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Where the responsibility for this failure lies is not clear. David Havili, who was the All Blacks first choice second five for much of last year and all this, says the onus is on those on the field.

“It’s probably just time and space. We don’t get deep enough, but they did a great job of taking away our time and space,” he said.

“As players, we have to take responsibility for that. We have to adapt to what they bring to the game.”

The players are probably right when they say they need to learn how to adapt to what they see on the field in real time, but it feels like they are protecting their coaching staff with that assessment.

The depth of alignment should be the responsibility of the coaching team. Alignment is the foundation of the attacking game – determined by the wider plan of how the team intends to break down the defence.

And if there has been an overwhelming flaw in the entire Foster coaching regime, it has been the continued failure to get the direction of the offense.

By extension, that is why Mo’unga and Barrett have not grown as players and the battle between them has never developed.

Perhaps, however, with a new coaching group almost certain to be appointed to take the team through to the World Cup, the Phoney War will finally end and the next regime will get that attack right and the All Blacks will once again have two worlds class No 10s the envy of the world.

#Blacks #playing #battle #RugbyPass

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