Speaking on the All Blacks Podcast powered by SAP, Head Coach Ian Foster said that opposing sides demonstrated last year that they had worked hard to lift their game speed and skills to New Zealand's standard.
After a great Rugby Championship, the All Blacks had gone north but were not allowed to play at their preferred speed and lost to Ireland and France, who were fast and skilful.
"It's just a bit of an upper cut for us. Some of the things we've taken for granted, 'oh that's the All Blacks, that's natural'," Foster said.
But the new players needed to continue to climb to keep the All Blacks ahead. Speed and skill filters would be factors applied to the 2022 selection process.
Dealing with rush speed defences was an ongoing task. Defence was getting quicker, and it was uncomfortable.
The key was striking a balance between the northern hemisphere approach to kick everything and the All Blacks' desire to play. That was something management had been working on for the past five or six years.
"We're instinctively a wider passing team. We like the big passes and creating space."
But against line speed, there were times when you got smacked, he said.
"We've got to learn some new habits. We're going to work hard on the length of our pass and how we kick versus some of these teams."
Covid-19 had affected the usual approach to the World Cup cycle.
Usually the first two years of a World Cup cycle were about establishing a style of game and having it run smoothly, he said.
"Often, the third year is about building some depth, and then the fourth year is about go and do it.
"We've had to flip that over. The first year we only had six Tests. Last year we had 15, but we were away from home. We had 40 players because of Covid quarantine and all that stuff.
"So we went to a depth strategy last year.
"This year we are going to narrow the squad down a little bit," he said.
That meant they would name 36 in the first squad on June 13, which would probably reduce later in the year.
While it was different to the usual World Cup processes, the All Blacks were in a good position because they now had a big group of players with a taste of Test rugby. Leaving players out was going to be tough.
Midfield was an area of interest after the injuries and disruptions in 2021. Anton Lienert-Brown, the most experienced of the options, hadn't played much because of hamstring issues, and was injured again this year.
There had been 'massive growth' in Rieko Ioane at centre. While Ioane had felt he was a centre playing on the wing, Foster had been of the opposite view. However, Ioane had grown his game at centre, he said.
"He's learnt some things about playing at 13, and I thought he finished the year strongly for us. He's really taken his game to a different level with what we've seen so far in Super Rugby, so I'm excited by that," he said.
Foster said the selectors were pleased with league convert Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's growth since returning to rugby with the Blues. He looked settled defensively and was good carrying the ball. He was probably still getting used to the passing game, and Foster hadn't seen anything of his kicking game.
"But I know he's an outstanding guy, he's doing a great job in the Blues. We've had some connections with him, and I know he's in a great spot. We've just got to look at his progress and, particularly, the next four or five weeks will be critical in that."
The selectors had watched, also with interest, Jordie Barrett playing at second five-eighths, but Foster said if he was honest, he hadn't been excited by the move.
Barrett had been one of the best All Blacks last year, and while he might offer an option in midfield, his play at the back was where his skills looked best suited to the challenge lying ahead at a World Cup in France with its big stadiums and big crowds.
Foster said halfback and loosehead prop were probably the two positions that had taken up most time in selection discussions.
Halfback was demanding because of the quality of the players available. The differences between the players made it hard to compare them, and it came down to how their strengths and weaknesses fitted into the team mix, he said.
The loose forwards were another where resources were available. He was pleased with the way Dalton Papalii had grown after showing in 2021 that he was an international player. He said he saw Ardie Savea as either a No8 or openside flanker.
But at No8, he could be freed up with his ball carrying.
"There're a lot of different styles of loose forwards that we've got. It is an area where we could be looking at a little mix and matching," he said.
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