No knee-jerk reaction from All Blacks camp

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:05 11/06/2014
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HERE'S WHAT WE'LL DO: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen talks to his players as Aaron Smith, left, Conrad Smith and Israel Dagg listen intently.

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The All Blacks won't chuck the baby out with the bathwater this week as they deal with a shoddy first-up effort and the growing threat that is Stuart Lancaster's formidable England rugby team.

In other words, there won't be knee-jerk selection changes on the back of an error-ridden and off-key first test effort at Eden Park that, for all its faults, still netted a 20-15 series-opening victory.

For those counting, that's now a record 31 straight home victories, 32 on the bounce at Eden Park and a current win streak of 15. Not bad digits for a side that might have struggled to catch a cold on Saturday night.

Fullback Israel Dagg (knee/thigh) remains in doubt after sitting out yesterday's training session in miserable conditions at the University Oval, while there are drumbeats that No 8 Kieran Read might be given at least another week despite finally presenting free of his concussion symptoms.

If Dagg sits out - he was considered 50-50 yesterday - it would see Ben Smith move to fullback and a fit-again Julian Savea return on the left wing where he provides a much more well-rounded look to the All Black back three. "Jules looks ready to go," assistant coach Ian Foster said of the big Wellingtonian's recovery from a knee injury. "We ramped up his training today and he looked good."

Read is free of the issues that removed him from the equation last week, but Foster hinted at an approach that will err on the side of caution with the best player on the planet. "Reado is feeling really sharp, but we'll need to look at where he's at from a conditioning perspective. We'll put a bit of work in and see what the response is."

Foster confirmed that, after a pretty honest first test review and an opening training effort that carried plenty of energy and intent, there would be no panic, despite the handling errors, missed tackles and scrum wobbles evident from Eden Park.

Opening-night nerves and the opposition clearly played their part and, although the All Blacks were taking a no-excuses attitude, the scratchiness was typical of a modern test era that requires players to switch modes mid-competition.

"When you're coming off a performance you're not that happy with, it certainly adds an edge to the start of the week. In some ways, one advantage of not starting the way we would have liked, there's no complacency.

"We're looking to learn from that game. It's stuff we should be nailing at this level, but were just a metre off. Part of the last two days is remedying that, and remembering we still showed enough character to hang in there and get a win."

Foster also endorsed the decision hatched between Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett to tap a kickable penalty late that could have had dire consequences, but didn't.

"We want our players to see what's there and make decisions," Foster said. "You're not going to win them all, but we could have had a shot at goal and missed it, or they could have come back and kicked a penalty.

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"If you over-complicate the decision-making thing, you're never going to get a decision that's a little outside the box."

As much as everyone - including themselves - expects a vastly improved All Blacks' effort this week, Foster conceded England demanded a ton of respect after an opening effort that confirmed their status as legitimate World Cup contenders.

"They've got a different picture than us - a group that's been sitting back for 10 days and probably jumping out of their skin. I would assume they will do what we're doing which is trying to build on that performance. There was enough there for them to have a bit of hope but certainly enough there to keep us busy for a week or two."

The All Blacks called in strapping Highlanders wing Patrick Osborne for the first two days' training in Dunedin, and Foster confirmed he was very much on their radar.

"He's a big, strong winger who's shown some really nice stuff in the last month. He's got a lot of power, has been good under the high ball, has improved on defence and his instincts near the goal-line is pretty good." 

- Stuff

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