All Blacks game plan didn't miss a beat

JUSTIN MARSHALL
Last updated 17:16 13/11/2012
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Andrew Hore scores the All Blacks' fourth try at Murrayfield.

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OPINION: Let's not under-play this All Black performance. From a new-look team that had to survive an early intercept try, a sinbinning and an injury to a key player, the dismantling of Scotland was impressive.

I'd thought the All Blacks would take some time to find their rhythm considering the number of changes. But it didn't take long. They started well and - apart from that early intercept - were successful in shutting the crowd out of it.

Sure, they fell behind to Dan Carter's only misstep all afternoon, but they responded well after that. After only a week's training they didn't lack any belief in what they could achieve.

I was rapt with Steve Hansen's decision to try a new midfield combination. After being an advocate of the need to develop depth, I was pleased to see him take that step and perhaps, in Ben Smith's case, offer a glimpse at the future.

Both midfielders played well, even though they were assisted by a fabulous performance from Carter. Hansen made that point after the game, and perhaps he should have included Piri Weepu too. The 9-10 combination allowed the centres to thrive, especially with Carter playing so flat and creating so much uncertainty in the defence.

Weepu's response to a clear challenge laid at his feet was encouraging. I don't think this was ever about his skills or ability to read the game, but whether he could play at tempo like Aaron Smith has been doing.

And well done to Piri. He didn't go missing at any stage.

The performances of Carter and Weepu reinforced that the All Blacks have got a certain way they want to play, and because of that Smith and Tamati Ellison were able to prosper.

I'd also been concerned leaving Kieran Read out might have been a problem because he's been a massive ball-carrier. But Victor Vito was superb.

The All Blacks have introduced some subtleties into their attack that keep defences guessing. They've used a different first receiver - usually Israel Dagg - and they've also used forwards to provide the initial thrust. Often the second ball-carrier is Read but in this game Vito stepped in like he'd been doing it all season.

These seamless transitions meant the All Black game-plan didn't miss a beat.

It's not all perfect, of course. They're still making errors they've been making all year, and they continue to be beaten in the territory and possession game, even though they're winning tests comfortably.

Believe it or not there is still plenty of upside. If the All Blacks had been more fluent they could have found another 20 points easily.

The worry is that it becomes a regular factor in the All Black game. There is still another 20-30 per cent in them - and it would be nice to see it.

But their defence is so good, they're getting away with it. Scotland have a 60-40 advantage - give or take - in territory and possession, and the All Blacks slip off just five tackles, to the Scots' 12.

It also shows the quality of the All Black attack - even with less ball they're utilising it so much better. Scotland scored three tries, but two were opportunistic, or "soft". They only scored one constructed try.

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The All Blacks all year have put teams under pressure with their defence, as much as their attack.

Carter was incredible in this test. He was involved in every try in some capacity, either taking the ball right on the advantage line of freeing up space on the outside when he shifted it.

Savea again showed his qualities in finishing and that try he scored off Carter's cross-kick was superb. He still had some work to do when he took it, but he made it look easy.

I also liked the fact that when Beauden Barrett came on for Israel Dagg, the All Blacks just carried on without a hitch. Another good sign.

Nothing really changes this week as they head to Italy. There will be a similar selection mentality, and a similar mindset and inevitability about the game.

But as I stood on Murrayfield a half-hour after the final whistle watching the reserves and non-players out on the field going through a session like hungry schoolkids, I couldn't help but feel cheered.

They would have sat and watched the performance, and understood that now it's their turn. There won't be any complacency, I can tell you that.

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