All Blacks too 'cluttered' but England gutted

Last updated 05:00 09/06/2014
Aaron Smith
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OOPS: Handling errors hurt the All Blacks in the first test against England, with even the usually reliable Aaron Smith coughing up the ball.

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Cleaning out the clutter will be the theme of the week for the All Blacks.

The public focus in coming days will centre on whether No 8 Kieran Read and wing Julian Savea are passed fit for the second test in Dunedin.

Read sat out Saturday night's 20-15 first test win at Eden Park, despite having trained the house down last week without any recurrence of the symptoms of concussion that have plagued him in recent weeks.

And Savea's knee got a tentative all clear before the squad headed south for what is shaping as a cracking three-match series.

Both men are important, but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is more concerned with his players' minds than their bodies as they look to improve on a fumbling and inaccurate first-up performance.

"Everyone expects us to leap out and be perfect straight away and we probably have that expectation of ourselves, but sometimes that's not reality," Hansen said.

"We struggled at times with skill execution and usually that's an indicator we have cluttered minds. And if we have cluttered minds it's probably because we've [the coaches] made them cluttered through the week giving them too much to do."

Halfback Aaron Smith confirmed it had been difficult to shift his mind from the Highlanders' patterns and calls to those used in the All Blacks in such a short time frame.

For that reason, Hansen's not about to haul anyone over the coals. He said he would consider resting fullback Israel Dagg who has struggled for a month with a patella problem, but dramatic selection changes were unlikely.

"Another six days I think we'll step up a few more levels and be in a better position to gauge where we are," Hansen said.

"If we make changes it will be mainly because of how we feel about how people are travelling at this stage of the season with their bodies and mentally . . . there's no point making changes for changes sake."

That said, Read and Savea would be no-brainers if fit.

Both would be major boosts for an attack that struggled to get over the advantage line against England's flat and physical defence.

The All Blacks identified the space in behind the wings, but didn't execute their tactical kick-and-chase game well enough. The result was kicks simply released the pressure valve. Ball in hand is sure to be a focus this week.

"There wouldn't have been many times we went past two or three phases," Conrad Smith said.

"But it felt like if we were to, we would have been asking some big questions of them. That's their style of play. They're very good at set piece and very good at first, second, third phase, but I think we can challenge them after that."

"I think we can build more pressure if we work hard to use the width in our game. That will create opportunities rather than going from set piece to set piece."

South African referee Jaco Peyper could aid that cause. Welshman Nigel Owens was accurate in most of his calls, but let the first test meander, something that played into England's hands.

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There is little doubt England coach Stuart Lancaster's men's improvements will be at least as great as the home side. He hinted he had tough calls to make after his supposed second-stringers pushed the All Blacks close.

He will not pause for long before introducing some of his top guns.

There is little doubt hooker Dylan Hartley, lock Courtney Lawes, first five-eighth Owen Farrell, and wing Chris Ashton would enhance England's chances in Dunedin.

There may also be temptation to introduce Billy Twelvetrees or Brad Barritt in the midfield and Billy Vunipola at No 8, or to recall injured halfback Danny Care.

Even if they don't start, such resources will stack the bench. England dominated most statistics in Auckland and believed they deserved a draw.

Lancaster is desperate to force a series decider and early evidence suggests that is not beyond this England squad.

- Stuff


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