Crotty the glue for All Blacks at World Cup

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That's the view of former England and British & Irish Lions five-eighths Stuart Barnes, now a commentator and columnist for Britain's Skysports.


In reviewing the last round of international warm-up games around the world ahead of the World Cup, he said that as he watched the All Blacks beat Tonga 92-7 in Hamilton on Saturday he felt that if the All Blacks won the world tournament Ryan Crotty would be the key man.


"The Crusaders inside centre isn't the biggest, quickest, or most skilful of them, but he will be the eyes and ears of his ten [first five-eighths], playing the role of Ma'a Nonu in 2015," he said.


But he also wondered who that first five-eighths might be.


"New Zealand are worried about Beauden Barrett as a goal kicker. He isn't and will never be a trustworthy kicker under pressure. He's too mercurial – something I have touched on frequently in the past.


"Yet he can change the way the All Blacks play, the pace at which they play.


"Play the good but infinitely lesser Richie Mo'unga in the pivotal position and New Zealand lose more than they gain if Barrett plays fullback," he said.


Barnes added that in their win at the weekend the All Blacks had looked the part.


"The support lines are majestic, a different class to any other team, but Tonga did allow them the sort of space South Africa and possibly Wales won't grant. Lovely as it was to see those cutting lines, I wouldn't give up on your nation (if it's not New Zealand) quite yet," he said.


Barnes said that South Africa had shown in their 41-7 win over Japan at the weekend that they had a team who could go close under coach Rassie Erasmus.


"The 41 points are impressive enough, but what caught my eye was the lowly seven conceded. Japan are a clever attacking team. This was no mean effort," he said.


And Australia against Samoa?


"Australia, with a weakened team, looked good in the first half against Samoa. Samoa had a splendid period mid-game with the Blues' (Cardiff, that is) Ray Lee Lo, exceptional. I saw enough to think Australia could trouble Wales and maybe England, while Samoa have it in them – once a little more organised – to worry one of Ireland, Scotland, and Japan in what is fast becoming my favourite pool," he said.


Ireland and Wales had been more in grind mode, Barnes said. Ireland had made it three wins from four in their warm up games and had looked assured in defence and structured in attack. Ireland would need Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton to be back to their best to regain their level of 2018.


"Ireland could lose to Scotland yet beat the All Blacks…but I don't think they can win the World Cup. And they are not the world's best team," he said.


Wales had suffered three defeats in four and it was unclear whether they were holding something back in attack or struggling.


"They appear slightly overrated on current form, but defences so often hold sway at World Cups. A strong Welsh performance remains expected, at least from me," he said.


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