15 Jul

Has anyone seen my patience..?
by Paul Waite
15 Jul 2007

Because I seem to have lost it.

There’s usually some kind of threshold for things measured or monitored. The lip of a glass you’re filling with water, a pass mark in an exam, tax (sorry for swearing) etc.

In this case the thing being measured is the perceived performance of the All Blacks.

Given the nature of the season, with rested All Blacks in the Super 14 and so on, we obviously had to cut them some slack for a few tests.

But the threshold for forgiveness of the heinous crime of an All Black team playing shit rugby was the final whistle of the Bledisloe Cup test at the MCG two weeks ago. This latest test had to be a good one, with most of the rustiness and form issues sloughed off and a much tighter, more accurate performance put on the track.

It didn’t happen did it. It was 24 carat shite wasn’t it?

Why is it, we wonder? It’s a definite puzzle, and without an “in” as to what’s happened and is currently happening inside Camp All Black, we won’t be able to do anything but make a few guesses.

The only real evidence we have is the progression of performances as viewed in each sequential test match this season.

But first, as a benchmark I reviewed a test match from last season, in November 2006, and the difference was marked. Here was an All Black team pretty well honed and at some form of peak. This was at the end of a test season, so is pretty much in the ballpark of where we should be about now, given we have only a single test of any ‘testing’ nature between now and sudden Rugby World Cup death.

Unfortunately it was like chalk and cheese – where the cheese in question has big blue gungy bits in it and is so rank it would fell a grizzly bear at 50 yards.

The 2006 test saw a very tight unit both on attack and in defence. Passing was crisp and most importantly of all, chances were taken in a surgical manner with speed and accuracy.

In fact pretty much a reverse image of everything which went on tonight, where the flattering win hinged on a young, inexperience Bok team getting spiked by a debatable sin-binning at a time when they were getting tired. That and a ‘miracle ball’ by Joe Rokocoko to make the first try.

The inadequacies of the team were such that, as in previous tests, in particular the one at the MCG, they created opportunities only to find they weren’t nearly sharp enough to take them.

Until the opposition got turned into 14 men, and tired sufficiently for big enough gaps to open up in the defence that is. Hardly a recommendation that they are Rugby World Cup winners-in-waiting.

So the forgiveness threshold has passed. With the kickoff of this test at Christchurch we needed to see a tight, controlled performance, with maybe a couple or three chances, crisply finished off and a solid defence to base a good win on. Nothing flashy, just good honest, tight test match play in the forwards, with some efficiency out wide to finish off opportunities.

It didn’t happen. So why are the team in these straits?

For the answer I believe you have to take a good hard look at the selections which have been made in the tests available to us this season.

In the previous two seasons the selectors have made a point of building depth, via the so-called ‘rotation policy’. This has brought us huge benefits in player depth and was wonderfully managed by Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen.

But this season should have been more about honing a top 22, and getting those players to step up a level to achieve the kind of understanding of each others play that you only get by repetition. Instead we’ve had about the same levels of chop-n-change as we’ve seen before, and compounded by the reconditioning period in the Super-14 what we’ve ended up with now is a squad which isn’t anywhere near as fluid and together in any one of its many combinations as it should be at this time in the Rugby World Cup calendar. According to comments attributed to All Black second five-eighth Aaron Mauger, we aren’t the only ones to be confused by this policy either.

Graham Henry might have dismissed all these perceptions in his after-match interview tonight, but I’m not buying it. The problems we saw look like they are quite difficult ones to solve quickly. I’ve seen teams in situations like this take numerous games to come right, and they simply don’t have them. It isn’t something you can just put right on a training paddock either since the problems and solutions are only revealed in the pressure of a test match.

The All Blacks only have a week to find some answers. The Wallabies will have taken great heart from the difficulty the All Blacks had stringing things together against South Africa, and also from the way that the Boks challenged their defence which seems inconsistent and occasionally a bit soft this season.

In short, the Bledisloe Cup is very definitely up for grabs and unless some kind of miracle occurs in camp All Black, next week up in Auckland is going to be a very tough game for them to win.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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