Our Sports Columnist Reports…

All Blacks OK?

Not good enough?

By Roger Childs

They scored one try in the first test and only two when they had the Aussies on the rack in Auckland.

A fortnight later, after being bustled by Argentina for three quarters of the game the All Blacks only got home with a late rally.

Then last Saturday they were fortuitously saved from possible defeat against the Springboks by the woeful goal kicking of the normally deadly Steyns. What’s wrong with the All Blacks? Some media critics and self-appointed  experts on radio talkback are bemoaning our performances.

The downs and ups of John Mitchell

Many will recall the record of former All Black coach John Mitchell. He’s probably best remembered for destroying our 2003 World Cup hopes in Australia with some poor back selections. Then there was his woeful treatment of Christian Cullen: local hero, and possibly the nation’s best ever full back.

However a couple of months before being bundled out of the World Cup, Mitchell’s All Blacks beat South Africa in Pretoria 52-16 and a week later, the Australia 50-21 in Sydney. Why can’t we play like that now?

A winning team

Despite some uneven performances, we are actually doing well in the new Four Nations competition. The All Blacks have so far won all four matches, whereas the other three teams have won two at the most. We’ve beaten all of the rest so far and none of them has picked up a bonus point against us. There is no doubt that the All Blacks will go on to win this inaugural competition.

It is a truism that you can only play as well as the opposition lets you. Australia, South Africa and Argentina desperately want to beat us and the games so far, except for the second half of the Auckland test, have been predictably hard fought.

A rebuilding and experimental phase

Fresh from World Cup success in 2011, the All Blacks are in a rebuilding phase, especially in the forwards. We haven’t yet developed locks as tough as Brad Thorn and the younger Ali Williams. Jerome Kaino was the standout flanker last year and he’s proving hard to replace. Vito and Messam are not in the same class.

It may also be that 31 year old prop Tony Woodcock, once considered the best loose-head in the world, is on borrowed time. He gave away far too many penalties on Saturday and looked a little short of a gallop. Canterbury’s Wyatt Crockett could be the man to replace him, however the team’s scrumming technique would need to adjust to Crockett’s height.

At first-five, Cruden is learning some hard lessons in the absence of Carter and rugby fans always feel more secure when Dan runs the backline. Retaining the experienced Piri Weepu as one of the half backs is not going well. It is surprising that the in-form Andy Ellis was not picked as the back-up for the exciting, fast passing Aaron Smith.

Let’s celebrate success

We should, nevertheless, celebrate our successes, as the All Blacks have won 14 tests in a row and despite a number of injuries, are still keeping ahead of the chasing pack. As the coaches are well aware, there are plenty of things to work on, and the next two away tests in La Plata and Soweto will be harder to win.

However the World, Bledisloe and Freedom Cups are all safely in the cabinet and the Rugby Championship trophy will soon join them.

All Blacks rule OK! for now.