The All Blacks have recently wound up their series against England, coming away with a 3-0 winning streak. As one would predict, as one would hope. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, far from it actually…
Test 1 and test 2 were both down to the wire and in reality, the All Blacks were lucky to secure two wins. I felt that in the first test in particular, the All Blacks were outplayed by the English, and it was pure luck that they somehow got more points than the English. The second game was more evenly contested, but the English were very unlucky to not win after their second half comeback.
Test 3 was the one game that gave All Blacks fans some hope. There was a notable improvement in both their attacking and defensive game, and for the first time in the series, the All Blacks looked like the All Blacks.
The backs were especially impressive:
- Julian Savea was on fire, smashing through the English like they were five year olds (scoring three tries on the way)
- Cory Jane had one of his best games in the last couple of years
- Aaron Smith was good with ball in hand – and scored two tries – but his kicking game leaves a lot to be desired
- Malakai Fekitoa made his starting debut for the All Blacks and he didn’t look out of place in the #13 jersey. He made some powerful runs and worked well with Ma’a Nonu. This is one guy that you can say deserved his place in the All Blacks, without a doubt. I bet John Kirwan is kicking himself for dropping Malakai from the Blues! He has been more outstanding for the Highlanders in 2014, than the Blues team in its entirety!
- Ben Smith overtook Israel Dagg as the first choice fullback. How could he not? Smith’s game – attacking, defensive and kicking – has been far more comprehensive and complete in 2014, and his performance on Saturday night confirmed that. Steve Hansen needs to stop playing him on the wing, it is a waste of his talents. Here’s hoping Hansen and co have given up on the idea of playing him at #13! Easily the player of the series.
After the first test the English media were very quick to pounce, suggesting (proclaiming?) the All Blacks had lost their ‘aura’, and were no longer the peak of rugby perfection. What they failed to take into account was the fact that prior to the first test, the All Blacks had had a total of FOUR training sessions together. No team can be expected to play cohesively and impressively after four training sessions. After the second test, the English media spoke of a ‘much improved’ All Blacks team, and after the third test? The English media were extremely quiet.
So where does this leave the All Blacks, in the lead up to the Rugby Championship?
Simply, I think the All Blacks are in a good position for the Rugby Championship. If you compare their performance in the first test, with their performance in the third test, the improvement was vast. It was almost as if they were two completely different teams. That just goes to show how quickly the All Blacks develop as a team when they have a decent amount of time together.
A lot was made of the All Blacks’ less than impressive first couple of tests, but I think it was a good thing for them to have such tough opposition first up. All Blacks supporters tend to expect the All Blacks to win by a convincing margin in every single game they play. The reality is, NO team can win every game, and NO team can make it through the season without being challenged. It is GOOD for the All Blacks to have three tough tests first up, because it better prepares them for games against South Africa and Australia, which are sure to be tough contests!