SA test chance for ABs to hit top gear
Could this be the week when the All Blacks finally reward their fans with the performance they've been thirsting for since the Rugby Championship kicked off?
So far we've seen three wins that have all had pleasing elements. But they've all also been slightly flawed performances, for one reason or another. Saturday night at the Cake Tin fell neatly into that category.
I don't think I'm overdosing on the optimist pills in saying that we have a chance to see a more complete test performance this week. Maybe even a very good chance.
For starters there's the advantage of playing under that roof in Dunedin. You can turn up having trained all week knowing exactly how you want to play and can implement that game plan because conditions are not going to play a part.
The Springboks also look a very similar outfit to Argentina. They're very strong up front, they've got a good set piece and some good direct runners but they're not showing a great deal of variety in their game plan.
The All Blacks should be able to prepare comfortably and hopefully unleash the game they want to play - the one at pace they showed against Australia, with high impact at the advantage line.
But the South Africans will challenge them in areas Australia and Argentina haven't.
The Boks have strike power and they're a capable team, albeit one playing within themselves.
The ball they kicked away let Australia back into the game, and as a result they're selling themselves short.
It's going to be a very good occasion, and I hope the rugby plays its part. Dunedin is a sellout, it's a true rugby venue, the crowd are nice and close, and we're up against the old foe who simply have to win. It's set up to be an absolute cracker.
I don't think the All Blacks were as bad as some are suggesting against Argentina either. Conditions weren't great and affected the game.
Argentina's attitude was fabulous.
A lot of people predicted they would struggle with the All Blacks' intensity, skill level and pace.
But Argentina's own intensity and passion made it a real test match and an interesting war of attrition. It took 55 minutes for the All Blacks to wear them down and that only came after two quite notable incidents.
The yellow card was significant and the All Blacks were eventually able to capitalise with Julian Savea's try.
Later Richie McCaw's superb captaincy to take a scrum rather than three points sealed the match. I'm sure he just thought,
"It's time we put our stamp on this game".
For all the ball and territory the All Blacks had for the first hour, they weren't able to turn that into points.
But they grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the final 15 minutes.
McCaw made a break and then Savea another leading to the first try, and they were getting over the advantage line easier.
That first try gave the All Blacks breathing space, and that allowed McCaw to take that scrum. From that moment the game was over.
There was a lot of talk beforehand that we needed to be more patient. But you can be patient and passive.
And the All Blacks were guilty of that at stages.
In the first half they were panicky, and though they made ground with their attack they weren't patient.
In the second half they decided to be more patient with the ball but then were guilty of being passive.
Over the last 15 to 20 minutes they punched on to the ball better and that's when they took control.
Argentina were defensively very good, tackled intelligently and denied New Zealand one of our key strengths - the ability to pick the weak shoulder and get offloads away. You can do that easier when people tackle too high.
But the Argentinians went in hard at the thigh and hip, chopping the ball-runner down quickly and denying the All Blacks those offloads.
I'm not sure you can be overly critical of the All Blacks because they worked it out in the end. But Argentina were tactically clever and were in that test for 55 minutes.
I just hope - and I think we all hope - that the All Blacks make the adjustments this week and really do deliver the performance they're capable of.