Next season could be about the battle of the packs
James Mortimer 10 Dec 2012 Getty Images
Often the key for beating an All Blacks side is getting on top of them up front, but a winning percentage of over 75% in the last century for New Zealand suggests that this is easier said than done.
The All Blacks offered no excuses after their loss to England, whereas it wouldn’t of been a stretch to suggest that the final Test of the season, a bug that swept the squad during the build-up week, or the promise of a well-earned break beyond Twickenham, might have mean't that the World Champions usually finely honed minds were distracted.
The English commentators, and the team itself, seemed to grow when they tackled the All Blacks in a manner not really seen throughout the campaign, but one loss on the hallowed turf on the Red Rose doesn’t change the fact that throughout the season it was the World Champions who were driving their opponents back with their frontal assaults.
However the one aspect that could force a slight shift in the All Blacks thinking is that their fast paced game, while reliant on a powerful pack getting quick ball recycled at the breakdown, may have subconsciously stepped away from the classical New Zealand pack attack that has been a hallmark of their game for decades.
While the concept of All Blacks forwards running with the ball, a time honoured tradition, has been duplicated by this team, there will be an intriguing response from the Men in Black’s pack next season, who won’t appreciate being challenged so effectively up front in the final test of 2012.
The Springboks may in theory lick their lips at how the English went about their business, one threat to the All Blacks who can duplicate the same muscle in the forward exchanges, but of late the speed of the World Champions game and the ability to close out a Test throughout 80 minutes – with their second half masterclass in Soweto notable – has had the South Africans unable to counter their greatest antagonists of late.
Les Bleus, who showed against the Wallabies their desire to impose themselves up front hasn’t dimmed, will be thinking that perhaps if they bring the brutal game seen throughout the fields of France to New Zealand in 2013 they could chase a rare series win in the All Blacks backyard.
Even if not, the French could target the second Test of the Steinlager Series as the ultimate party crasher, where the All Blacks will play their 500th Test.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said throughout the season they were looking to effectively run teams off their feet, and that approach yielded over 120 points against Ireland in three Tests including a record 60-0 romp in Hamilton.
During The Investec Rugby Championship the All Blacks achieved significant victories against each rival, blanking the Wallabies 22-0 at Eden Park to follow up on their Rugby World Cup semi-final success, while the 54-15 win in La Plata and the 20 unanswered second half points at Soccer City were among the more impressive victories achieved by Test sides this year.
Rivals may have seen what could be interpreted as a chink up front in the All Blacks armour, but history shows they are remarkable blacksmiths in repairing a facet of their game they have always prided themselves on.
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