Mehrtens: Rusty All Blacks deserve second shot

ANDREW MEHRTENS
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2014
All Blacks
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HO-HUM: All Blacks players have plenty to think about after their generally average performance against England on Saturday.

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OPINION: That was a long way from a quality All Black performance on Saturday night but I'm picking there won't be many changes for the second test in Dunedin.

My gut feel is it would be good to give the guys another chance, even if they didn't quite get it right at Eden Park. Steve Hansen knew they'd be rusty, but I'm sure he would have given them a spray after that effort.

That's all good. Sometimes a team needs to receive that sort of a message from its coach. It's about the way it's delivered - it can't be personal and it's got to be constructive and solution-focused.

Part of that is making the players remember it's not about them playing for the coach, or anyone else, it's about living up to their own standards. They've let themselves down first and foremost, particularly with the handling errors and quality of passing.

I don't think it was a disastrous game from an All Blacks' perspective but they certainly didn't achieve the standards we expect.

I'm sure Hansen won't panic and will give the guys a chance to redeem themselves in Dunedin. At the same time the players will be on notice: you've got to set standards, and if they don't come up to the mark required there are repercussions.

It's just about remembering one game doesn't make someone a bad player - especially not the first test of a long season, on the back of just a week's preparation.

There's an expectation Kieran Read might return at No 8 if his head problems have cleared. But it might be best to give him more time, and I'm sure they'll take the cautious approach.

Handling errors hampered this first All Blacks test, and that was unusual. One of the things that's set them apart in recent years is they've executed so much better than anyone else.

But we've got to accept England were bloody good. Yes, I said it. It's a test match, they're big guys and very physical. If you run into bodies, and not gaps, you're not going to get a lot of go-forward.

I'm glad this looks like being a competitive test series. You want contests, and we certainly saw that right from the start when Chris Robshaw picked the ball up and ran through the middle.

Ma'a Nonu was lucky his jersey tug came so early, as he might have had a 10-minute break if it had been later.

The All Blacks' defensive co-ordination was also off and they looked vulnerable when England spread it and ran into gaps. That will come with time.

We've got to be careful we don't explain away all the shortcomings on rust. That affects cohesion and co-ordination, but dropping the ball was more over-eagerness.

Positives? There weren't many opportunities, but they took the big one at the end. The scrum had some good moments, the aggression on defence was good, and Jerome Kaino stuck his head down and worked pretty hard - not bad for a guy coming back after two years out.

Aaron Smith also had a pretty good night, and Aaron Cruden came through better than some have been suggesting. We're used to seeing more conspicuous acts, but he didn't have much of a chance to have a crack at the line.

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His tap penalty could have turned out badly, but I liked it. You've got to back your mates, and when guys tell you they want the ball, a part of that is having the confidence and faith in them.

I just hope it's not seen as cockiness. In a tough test like that the first thought is normally to knock these three points over. But the call came, and the All Blacks were good enough to make it count in the end.

It will be interesting now to see what England do. They've got to reward guys who performed well, but they also have players now available who could strengthen the team.

I think we'll see better attack, and more tries, from both teams in Dunedin. England showed an attacking mindset in the first test, but lacked a bit of fluidity and, like the All Blacks, will be better for the outing. Farfax NZ

- Stuff

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