All Blacks tick the right boxes in series win

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 09:50 23/06/2014
Malakai Fekitoa
Photosport
CENTRE OF ATTENTION: Malakai Fekitoa's first test series will have left the All Blacks bosses confident they have a suitable back-up at centre for Conrad Smith.

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The importance of the All Blacks' third test crushing of England is twofold.

Just as England thought they had made bite-size increments into the seemingly impenetrable black wave of dominance that has swept world rugby, the dagger blow in Hamilton handed them a serious reality check. 

And the flow-on effects of New Zealand's 36-13 win cannot be underestimated.

Excuses can be clutched at.

The last game in a long season is the hardest to rise for - as the All Blacks discovered, in their sole loss during their past 38 tests at Twickenham, two years ago.

England, though, used 46 players on this tour. That alone should have countered fatigue.

Conceding a series sweep to the All Blacks is no shame - they are unbeaten at home over the past five years.

It is the manner in which England capitulated that will make their long-haul flight home all the more agonising.

Granted they showed spirit to fight back but by that point the result was well beyond doubt.

Bruised bodies and battered pride always hurt more after such a deflating defeat.

Another closely contested battle, as the first two encounters were, would have given England heart.

But after being blown away in a near-flawless first-half display from the All Blacks, Stuart Lancaster's men must ultimately feel they made minimal progress.

It is almost a case of two steps forward, three back.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen certainly felt his side inflicted a telling blow 15 months out from the World Cup.

''I think last night hurt them,'' he said yesterday of the emphatic victory.

''Psychologically it hurt them, particularly that first half. There was really only one side in it that first 40 minutes. I think that might have hurt a bit.''

For the All Blacks, confirmation they are trending in the right direction breeds confidence.

No-one was more frustrated with their sloppy first-up efforts at Eden Park in Auckland than those involved.

There was 20 minutes of rugby the All Blacks were satisfied with in Dunedin; 40 in Hamilton. Their goal now will be to replicate such dominance for as long as possible. Do that and they will be truly unstoppable.

Having individually and collectively lifted their skills and standards, further improvements will be demanded when they regroup for a shot at being the sole owners of the major nations' test match winning record against the Wallabies in Sydney in six weeks.

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''It's always good to have a psychological advantage but the key thing was we played well. That's what we were looking for. We made progress from test one through to test three. That's satisfying and was something we desperately wanted,'' Hansen reflected.

Elements of this performance should also put to bed suggestions that some ageing All Blacks - the likes of captain Richie McCaw and Tony Woodcock - have been on the wane since their epic victory at Ellis Park last year.

''From that Johannesburg test we've had an end-of-year tour where we probably didn't hit our straps like we wanted,'' All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said.

''We've built nicely through this series and hopefully that's dispelled a few myths that a few of the boys are waning.

''There's certainly guys that have come in pretty jaded from Super Rugby and perhaps took a bit longer to adjust to international rugby.

''That's happened the last two or three years, so we're pretty comfortable.''

After nailing his chance at fullback during Israel Dagg's absence, Ben Smith is hard to go past for man of the series, though workaholic lock Brodie Retallick was not far behind.

Julian Savea showed his immense value after missing the first test through injury and in Malakai Fekitoa the All Blacks will sense they now have a genuine backup at centre to Conrad Smith.

For now at least, most boxes are ticked.

- Stuff

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