OPINION: Have our expectations of these All Blacks become unrealistic?
It's a valid question after the world champions extended their winning run to 14 tests with a gutsy 21-11 win over South Africa.
Two tries, a moment of Aaron Smith brilliance and one of the great captain's knocks from the indestructible Richie McCaw created an electric atmosphere at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Yet still many left with that increasingly familiar feeling of being unfulfilled.
Still the inquisition of coach Steve Hansen continues over when his side will really hit their straps despite adding South Africa to their seven test scalps this season.
So are the All Blacks poor? Is the game broken? Or are we just an incredibly hard bunch to please?
Probably all three.
For starters we need to acknowledge the Springboks' challenge.
All Blacks handling errors have been a factor in the stop-start nature of recent tests, but we too often overlook the quality of the opposition.
Saturday's match was a ferocious contest. The sound of bodies colliding could be heard from the stands and South Africa's pack came hard from the kickoff.
If their backs were not so bereft of attacking variety and vision this match was theirs for the taking and had Dean Greyling not been sin-binned, it could have been a nail-biting finish.
It was not so much the All Blacks failing to create try-scoring opportunities as being denied them. That they converted two chances was not a poor return.
It is worth pausing to celebrate the maturation of Israel Dagg into a complete fullback, cool under pressure, long and accurate with his punt returns and capable of creating and finishing tries.
In Dagg and wing Cory Jane the All Blacks have the best bomb disposal unit in world rugby, part of a defensive setup that can soak up immense pressure.
It's fair to critique the attack, even if the absence of Dan Carter is underplayed by many. It remains a work in progress. The ball-carrying presence of Jerome Kaino continues to be missed despite McCaw taking up the challenge and there is an impatience at times to push the pass.
But there are also mitigating factors preventing the flowing rugby the All Blacks seek. Perhaps most notably in Dunedin was referee George Clancy.
There were 25 penalties in Dunedin and that is too many. Nineteen were at the ruck or maul where Clancy's demands on players rolling away post-tackle were at times unrealistic. The Rugby Championship is outstripping the Six Nations with 21.6 penalties per game to its northern rivals 19.6.
“You do want the game to be quick, but when there are big men going at it and there are a lot of bodies in the way then it's tough [to roll away],” All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read said.
Hansen likened the breakdown to “bulls in a china shop smashing into each other”.
At set piece there were four penalties and two free kicks in Dunedin. It may not sound a lot, but that's six attacking platforms lost. Six chances for a team to launch their attack and then build phases.
The All Blacks must always seek the perfect game and fans must demand it, but every now and then it's worth remembering that old rugby adage. A win is still a win.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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