Fortunes and mindsets sum up ABs situation

MARC HINTON IN HAMILTON
Last updated 13:26 20/06/2014
Waikato Times

Heading into the third test with England, All Black skipper Richie McCaw says the team is motivated to make it a test series clean sweep.

Julian Savea
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Julian Savea dives over to score in the second half, giving the All Blacks an 18-13 lead.

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In many ways the contrasting fortunes, and mindsets, of backline stars Ben Smith and Cory Jane sum up where the All Blacks find themselves as they conclude the first stanza of their test season tomorrow night at Waikato Stadium.

On the one hand you have a fullback - Smith - in the form of his life adopting the most self-deprecating attitude you could imagine for someone who pretty much single-handedly swung a rugby test in his home town last Saturday night.

On the other you have the out-of-sorts Jane struggling to find his mojo on the wing, but backing himself to the hilt to turn things around as he bombastically declares: ''I'm not done yet.''

That rather sums up an All Blacks outfit two-zip up on the gallant English but struggling for consistency, cohesion and to reach their own very high standards.

Yes, wins are wins - and right now Hansen's men are touching something special with 16 on the trot, and the chance to match the tier-one record of 17 in Hamilton tomorrow night.

But by their own admission their efforts thus far have been a little two-paced and have resulted in a couple of test matches that have been, in the final accounting, a little too close for comfort. It's been hard to escape the feeling Stuart Lancaster's side have all but closed the gap on the world's No 1 side.

There has been just enough of the brilliance, encapsulated by the superb Smith in Dunedin to see off the English, but a little too much of the fumbles and bumbles that have dogged Jane's game to enable anyone in the All Black camp to feel too comfortable about things.

Sure, it was better in Dunedin, when the All Blacks produced 20 minutes of razzle-dazzle to take the test away from the English.

But to finish this hard-fought series in anything resembling a satisfactory manner - and you wouldn't put it past them to put a tiring touring outfit to the sword - they must all find the level Smith reached in Dunedin when he revelled in his first test start in the position he yearns to make his own.

Not that you could find Smith resting on any laurels in Hamilton this week. Not his style. Not his modus operandi.

''Sometimes you guys might give me a bit too much credit,'' Smith said of his Dunedin masterclass.

''There's a couple of things I need to improve. A couple of times I could have drawn and passed better, there was a kick I shanked and a ball dropped when the line was sort of open. It's just working on those areas and trying to get better.''

Smith's humility is legendary already.

Halfback Aaron Smith says normally when an All Black plays like Smith did his team-mates spend the next week bringing him down a bit. But they know they don't have to bother with the level-headed Dunedinite.

Not that Smith doesn't take his satisfaction. ''I enjoy my rugby but when you put on that black jersey it's about always trying to get better,'' he said.

A bit of Jane's defiance and doggedness will help too.

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At times the laidback 31-year-old can be a one-man stand-up comedy routine, but it was notable to hear him in grimly serious mode when he spoke to the media here this week, bristling at any suggestion he might be a spent force at the highest level.

''I looked at my game and if I didn't drop the ball I didn't play that bad,'' he said of his Dunedin efforts.

''I got told to bring the energy and I was flying around everywhere. After halftime I cleared myself a little, started playing a bit more rugby and backed myself. It was disappointing to drop those balls but there is still a plus.

''I've had times in the All Blacks where I've got the ball twice but I made those two times count. It's about not trying to do everyone else's job. I need to go back and make sure when something involves me that I do that with excitement and energy and make it count.''

Then Jane bristled a little.

''I haven't set the world on fire, but I don't look out of place ... If you're a player who cleans rucks and you're really good at cleaning rucks, I guess you don't get seen as much as a guy who can make things happen out of nothing. Then if you don't make things happen out of nothing all of a sudden you're horrible.

''I can tell you I'm not done and I'm not far off it either. If someone says you're playing crap then you've got to show them you're not playing crap.''

If the All Blacks can combine Smith's attention to detail and Jane's determination tonight, they should finish this series in style.

TEAMS

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. .Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liam Messam, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.

England: Mike Brown, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond, Marland Yarde, Freddie Burns, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw (capt), Tom Wood,  Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, David Wilson, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Reserves: Rob Webber, Matt Mullan, Kieran Brookes, Dave Attwood, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, Danny Cipriani, Luther Burrell.

Referee: Jerome Garces (France).

 


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