ABs want to open up; wary of Boks backlash
The intent is definitely there from the All Blacks. Cory Jane is talking about having some "fun" this week and in-form No 8 Kieran Read is pledging an open and attractive approach aimed at freeing the shackles.
Whether the Springboks allow the world champions to unleash their arsenal remains to be seen, but there is no doubt the All Blacks are ready to vent some frustrations in this their fourth outing of the inaugural Rugby Championship, though their first against old rivals South Africa.
The roof over Forsyth Barr Stadium will help, keeping at bay those wintry conditions that so limited the spectacle last week in Wellington. But so will better execution and decision-making from the New Zealanders, who have not managed to put the full package together yet in this competition.
"It's great you can trust what you put in place game plan-wise and really know conditions aren't going to affect what you do," said Read who has been in punishing form this season. "There are different pressures in test footy and it's never easy to go out and play a free-flowing game when there's a defence screaming at you.
"But we want to play fast and with the ball as much as we can, and see how that pans out. So, with that in mind, it will be nice to be under the roof in dry conditions."
The Pumas test in Wellington is almost thrust into a box of its own because of the dreadful weather, but in both Bledisloe encounters the All Blacks were guilty of letting the Wallabies off the hook with a lack of accuracy around the tackle.
Read promises the issues have been addressed throughout the lineup.
"That's a team thing - decisions around the breakdowns and getting that right, and also decisions around passing or maybe hanging on to the ball to create another phase. With a better approach there we can hopefully increase our performance."
But Read was loath to put too much accent on points being the barometer of success against a foe as tough as the Boks.
"I don't think you can get hung up on that," he said. "You want to be pressuring teams and if points come they come. You want to be putting yourselves in position where you're creating those opportunities and finishing, but it's all about winning test matches.
"You want to be doing it well, though that's not always easy. But if we get it right it could be good for us."
Jane has been even more exasperated than Read, and you could tell he's ready to be part of something a little more adventurous.
"We're making opportunities for ourselves but we're trying to score straight away where a little bit of patience and maybe a couple more rucks and we might end up getting the try or penalty to get some points.
"At the moment we're a little bit too keen, too eager to try to score straight away. Playing against the best teams it's not going to happen like that. You have to wear some of them down."
Jane is also figuring on some fairly fierce resistance from a Boks team with a lot of pride to play for.
"They always come out and they're physical, and I guess it will be similar to what we had last week. They're a team that wants to intimidate you and throw everything into it. They've got some big boys, but we need to stick to our game-plan, and we need to get better.
"The counter-attack needs to get better, but we need to have fun back there. Lately we've just been trying to get into a structure and stay in that structure. Counter-attacking is not about that, it's about going out and having a bit of fun and playing what you see. So we've got to take it that way this weekend."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also warned that his men had to take care of the basics before they attempted to get too fancy.
"They're a big physical side. We've got to match that physicality and passion and desperation they've got," said Hansen. "They've not had a great start to the championship. If we come in half-cocked we could find ourselves on the back foot. It's all about us being on the front foot and enhancing our performance."
And Hansen made it clear the side's shortcomings on the finishing front was not a backline problem, but a team one.
"The issue is in our phase play, and our broken play. We just haven't made good decisions. We've created about 19 line-breaks, and have been doing that part of the game well. We're just not finishing off.
"Some of that is because we getting too lateral, and some because we're making poor decisions. That's the area of our game we have to grow."
Here's hoping. They may never have a better chance than in the most user-friendly conditions in world rugby.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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