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Super rugby still of value

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Sportal.co.nz     17 Jun 2009     Getty Images

The All Blacks selectors Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen made the point after the 22-27 loss that there was a big step up from Rebel Sport Super 14 to Test rugby.

But rather than implying the Super 14 was inferior to Northern Hemisphere competitions, they were stating the differences in preparation when New Zealand started its June Tests after playing Super 14 as opposed to teams like France which had been playing in wintry conditions and were better acclimatised.

Super 14 was played on dry grounds and in summer conditions and the players played to suit those conditions.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry said: "It's a very athletic, free-flowing game, a lot of ball in hand rugby and I think that develops some skills and individual skills.

"The game in the Northern Hemisphere is more stationary, the weather conditions are not conducive to the sort of game we play in the Super 14 so they have to drive a lot more in the lineouts and it becomes a forward orientated battle and that was what we came up against on Saturday.

"It was a side which had been playing a lot of that rugby [France] against a side that hadn't been playing a lot of that rugby [New Zealand].

"And we have it every year, it takes some time. We play in winter, we don't play in February, March and April when there's top-of-the-ground stuff so there's just a bit of a transition."

Henry suggested that one loss to France did not mean there was a crisis for the All Blacks. Last year the side lost only two matches out of 15 which reflected how the players grew accustomed to playing Test rugby and the requirements involved.

The adjustment from Super 14 to Test match rugby was the easier when players had more experience which wasn't the case in Dunedin.

"Is the Super 14 better than the Top 14 [France] or the Premiership [England]? It's different rugby. The game itself, the tactical approach and the driving lineouts and all those sorts of things are a different game so you have got to adjust," he said.

And with rough weather in Wellington for the early part of the week at least, there was every chance conditions would be more wintry for the second Test.

"Hopefully going through that transition last week they guys will be more accustomed."

Backs coach Wayne Smith said there would be an evening out among the Test nations because everyone would be playing under the same laws which had not been the case over the past two years. It would take time to achieve that, he said.

Forwards coach Steve Hansen said he didn't think that Super 14 didn't develop good rugby players. If that was the case than South Africa, the World Cup holder, Australia and New Zealand, the No.1 ranked team in the world, wouldn't be the top sides they were.

Super 14 just developed a different skills set and he pointed out again that for the past two years the Southern Hemisphere sides had been playing under a different set of laws and last week it played under a new set of laws. It was only natural to take time to adjust.

It was different to the situation last year when Australia beat the All Blacks in the first Test when Robbie Deans had been more familiar with the changed laws than the New Zealand selectors had not coached under those laws.

Hansen said last year the Australians had also had to adjust to changed laws for Test rugby, but what was happening with the French team was that it had not had any significant law changes to contend with at all.