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Fitzpatrick: All Blacks not the finished article

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Sportal.co.nz     18 Jan 2014     Getty Images

Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick still keeps an eye on his old side and told the International Rugby Board's Total Rugby Show, he was impressed with the way new blood was eased into the side in 2013 and felt their win at Ellis Park to seal the Rugby Championship had been outstanding.

And he felt the come from behind win over Ireland in Dublin had typified the All Blacks' year.

"Steve Hansen said they wanted to be 15 percent better than what they were and when you think of where they've come from since 2011 they've been quite outstanding in terms of what they've achieved on and off the field.

"They're a highly-motivated group of individuals, they're coached really well and I think that's the thing that really stands out for me is the coaching team and how well they've worked. They've picked up the baton from Graham Henry, and that would have been...very similar to [David] Moyes picking up [Sir Alex] Ferguson's baton really, or not picking it up, and Hansen's really taken it to a new level really and got the guys working hard individually.

"I think that's the key, individually their work ethic in terms of the way they analyse opposition, their own standards in terms of their own ability to read games and then to transmit that from the training field to the game time is quite outstanding," he said.

The ability of players to back-up the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter had impressed Fitzpatrick.

Aaron Cruden had stepped up to the plate was an obvious example but the likes of Tom Taylor, Beauden Barrett had shown their class while in the forwards Sam Cane and Ardie Savea had stepped up to reward New Zealand rugby for the reinvestment into the lower levels of the game.

The ITM Cup had been better while the Super Rugby sides in New Zealand were now even and producing a high quality of players for international contention.

The Springboks had been the big moves of 2013 in getting back to the game that suits them and they did so well against the All Blacks because they took them on physically, as England and Ireland did in November, and that was the key to playing them, to take them on, he said.

It was a case of ensuring that opponents took their opportunities when they came, and that might be as few as one in a game, but it had to be taken, he said.

"Unfortunately, a lot of teams don't believe they can beat the All Blacks. I didn't think the Irish could actually beat the All Blacks but then they got to 19-0 and thought, 'My God, maybe we can beat the All Blacks'.

But then a 'moment of doubt' entered the Irish hearts and they were undone in the last play.

Fitzpatrick said he didn't agree with the oft-quoted claims of critics that the All Blacks had been guilty of peaking between World Cups and then failing at the big event.

He said what happened was New Zealand got it wrong at the World Cups themselves, especially in 1999 and 2007 when they had lost their focus of concentrating on winning the key games, just as had been the mantra throughout their history.

But the team of 2013 hadn't peaked, they had been exposed to the sort of white-hot atmosphere expected at World Cups. Playing Tests at Ellis Park was the equivalent of playing in a World Cup, as was being 19 points down after 20 minutes in Dublin.

And that would only strengthen the side heading into 2015, he said.