6 Nov

All Blacks End of Year Tour Preview
by Tracey Nelson
6 Nov 2009

The All Blacks boast an impressive record of not having lost an end of year tour match since 2002, having racked up 16 wins since the loss against England that year. So what are the chances of keeping that record intact over the next few weeks?

In past few years the All Blacks have headed off on the end of year tour after very successful Tri-Nations campaigns. But 2009 has not been asuccesful year so far for the All Blacks, with a June loss to France and 0/3 aginst the Springboks during the Tri-Nations. For a side that under Henry’s coaching regime has wonmore than 85% of their games, the current 60% win percentage (after the win against Australia in Tokyo) desperately needs boosting. With five matches to play, anything less than a clean sweep will see that All Blacks finish 2009 with a win percentage less than 65% – well less than the All Blacks’ all time average of 74%.

So in many ways it wasn’t surprising when Graham Henry announced that the coaching roles the three have assumed over the past six years were to be changed. Henry, previously the defensive coach, has taken over coaching the forwards – a role up until now held by Steve Hansen, but one that has been fraught with difficulties andin 2009 particularly there has beenmuch acrimony over the failure of the All Blacks to master their set pieces and provide the dominance up front required to win test matches. From what we saw in Tokyo, under Henry’s coaching the forwards have not gone backwards, and encouragingly were seen to contest the opposition’s throws to the lineout which had not been a consistent feature under Hansen.

Hansen will assume Wayne Smith’s role of attack coach, with Smith slotting into the defence job. Few people had any gripes about Henry’s defensive coaching abilities, and it is unlikely Smith will meddle too much with the very effective system Henry has put in place.

Quite how the backs will perform under Hansen remains to be seen, but the coaching trio have reiterated that they wish to play open, flowing rugby so overall blueprint isn’t likely to change – but just what Hansen can do to rejuvenate a strangely impotent backline this season will certainly be under the microscope. With players such as newcap wingers Zac Guildford and Ben Smith, along with the in-form Cory Jane, there is considerable strike-power in the three-quarters. The job for Hansen will be to find a way to unleash that attack not just from the counterattack but more importantly from set piece.

After such a poor showing against the 10-man game of South Africa, the northern hemisphere sides will be keen to follow in the steps of the Springboks and suffocate the All Blacks out of the game. This end of year tour is important not just as a means of the All Blacks increasing their winning percentage, but to prove that the modern game can and should involve all fifteen players in the side and not solely revolve around a kicking game. To do that the coaches will have to ensure the following:

Forwards
- dominance in set piece, win own lineouts, good scrum
- committment of numbers and aggression at the breakdown, including the ability to counter-ruck
- awareness and adjusting quickly to each referee’s law interpretations at the breakdown

Backs:
- good execution under the high ball
- reforming quickly on the counter attack
- catching/passing skills must improve
- better kicking game, numbers and pace with the kick-chase

Should these basics not be realised, then there is every chance the All Blacks will face their first end of year test loss in seven years and with it potentially risk losing the all ready fading aura of invincibility generations of All Blacks have built up over the years. So the importance of a win against Wales this weekend, a side that has not beaten the All Blacks in 56 years, is possibly the biggest game of the tour.

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