James Mortimer 14.Jan.2013Getty Images
The five New Zealand franchises are now well into their training, building into the mid-February kick off of the 2013 season, and in some cases, notable Blues captain Ali Williams, some All Blacks have already begun the first steps into an interesting year ahead.
There is no World Cup campaign, and no ‘how will the Champs do in their first year?’, so in some respects the All Blacks – while some extra eyes are cast to the British and Irish Lions series in Australia – will look to build on what they have achieved, not only last season, but in an era which in many respects encapsulated itself with the victory at the 2011 quadrennial tournament.
The solitary loss of 2012 to England at the end of a 14-Test season will have many musing as to the All Blacks next match, especially if the cliché that one is only as good as their last game holds.
One defeat doesn’t erase a Steinlager Series whitewash against Ireland, an undefeated march through The Investec Rugby Championship, and a real sense of confirmation that the All Blacks were the World Champions and number one ranked team in the world.
A position they held for every minute of 2012, now confirmed by the International Rugby Board as the number one team for eighty percent of the time since the ranking’s system was introduced ten years ago.
An entire Super Rugby season prevents us from even beginning to muse as to how this season may pan out, with the Six Nations imminent, and over a hundred matches of intense ferocity between the original three Tri-Nations nations Super Rugby outfits - where the Chiefs will look to go back-to-back, the Hurricanes and Highlanders will look to improve on solid seasons, the Crusaders will desperately hunt title eight, while the Blues have no less than two Knights helping their bid.
If one was too however dissect the All Blacks game last year, it would be based largely on the frightening speed they operated with, from the ruck, to the turnover, to rudimentary catch-and-pass play.
Some might credit Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith as the principal instigator of this, but behind the scenes an unwavering belief that the All Blacks physical fitness and prowess at playing a high speed attacking game would eventually be beyond any opponent.
England didn’t prove this theory wrong, one loss doesn’t undo what some might deem a dynasty of sorts, but their physical approach and ‘in your face’ mentality shook the All Blacks out of a reliable and formidable pattern that had conquered all comers until they marched onto the Twickenham turf.
This speed worked so effectively as the tenants of the All Blacks game, such as power, forward momentum and the ability for the team to link as 15 backs per say, assisted in providing this accelerated platform.
Yet one wonders if head coach Steve Hanson might want to get his charges to flex their muscles this season, still sticking to the blueprint of pace that has served them so well, but maybe go back to the brutal basics (as opposition throughout history might claim), that has been the backbone of All Blacks success throughout the ages.
Hansen, a stickler for the basics, will have no first choice captain as the first Tests of the season approach, in the form of 2011 Rugby World Cup runners-up France.
However the former policeman has a successful first year under his belt as All Blacks coach, and no doubt he will task the World Champions to improve on their performance last season.
One wonders with excitement how the All Blacks will proceed…