Rugby: Average All Blacks Fail to Execute; Lose to Springboks
Frustrating. That sums up the All Blacks performance against Springboks last night. Despite creating all the play, the All Blacks were unable to take their chances and succumbed to a 18-5 loss.
The reliable boot of Morne Steyn provided the Springboks with all their points, kicking five penalties and a drop goal in a flawless kicking display.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks could only manage one try after a set move saw Richard Kahui cross for a well worked try.
But it was their inability to do this more consistently that cost them. Time and time again, the men in black would make a break, only to be let down by poor execution. Their passing was average and too many times the ball was dropped in contact.
Up front they weren't much better, lacking the intensity and physicality that they've shown over the past two years which has been one of the key factors in their dominance. Only once did we see it, and it's effectiveness showed in the way it kept the Springboks from scoring despite pressing hard on the All Blacks line.
The Springboks employed the predictable strategy of looking to kick for territory, but executed far more efficiently than they have done in recent times. Fourie Du Preez and Morne Steyn were both key in this, pinning the All Blacks deep in their half for large periods of the game.
Defensively they looked average, as the All Blacks were able to cut through numerous times, but desperate scrambling saw them hold the All Blacks to just one try.
But it was the All Blacks inability to execute that cost them.
While the match was a failure, it does provide an opportunity to rate some different players, who haven't had the same opportunities thus far, some of whom took their chance by the scruff of the neck, while others were quiet.
The biggest plus came in the performance of Israel Dagg. After months off, Dagg made his return to top level rugby and was outstanding. He was safe under the high ball, while he was also the most dangerous of the All Black backs.
Isaia Toeava also made his return and showed some brilliant glimpses too, however his hands let him down at times. Despite this, he will most likely still feature in the World Cup Squad to be named this week.
Richard Kahui had a strong game at centre and showed why he should be the back up midfielder to Nonu and Smith.
Sonny Bill Williams meanwhile was average, failing to threaten on attack. Twice he threw good offloads, but he seldom looked dangerous aside from these. His tendency in big games is to tend to look to distribute, rather than create or run himself. In comparison to Nonu he offers little and did nothing to add to his resume last night. Two good touches aren't enough to warrant a good performance.
The other point of interest would be how Colin Slade would perform wearing the No. 10 jersey. While he did some good things, he also looked unsure at times and a lack of experience and confidence shone through. But he'll be better for it, and showed enough that once he gets the confidence he will be a reasonable player.
Up front they matched the Springboks but didn't gain the dominance they have come to expect in recent years.
Jerome Kaino was his usual physical self, but lacked support in what he was doing. Thomson gave a passable performance on the openside, but showed that he is no Richie McCaw. Liam Messam meanwhile was average, failing to impose himself on the game the way Kieran Read has come to.
Ali Williams selection continues to be questionable. To often is he found standing off, not committing himself to the breakdown as needs to be done in the tight five. His lineouts were good, but aside from this he offers little else.
The scrums seemed to suffer from not having any grunt coming from the locking pair, showing the importance of a Brad Thorn type player in the team.
Of the front row Keven Mealamu gave a passable performance, but Tony Woodcock and John Afoa both looked out of sorts. Woodcock in particular seemed to do little and his fitness remains a big question mark ahead of the World Cup.
But it was the way they played as a team that let them down. The forwards didn't provide a good platform to work from, while the backline combinations didn't fire.
Next week the All Blacks will head to Australia where they will welcome back the services of many of their established stars. The game will decide the Tri-Nations and will be the team's last hit out before the World Cup.
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