All Blacks should conquer the North again

LIAM NAPIER IN EDINBURGH
Last updated 11:36 06/11/2012
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CHASING PERFECTION: An loss by the All Blacks against Scotland, Italy, Wales or England on their northern hemisphere tour would be an upset of seismic proportions.

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OPINION: At first glance, yet again, it seems all too easy.

Coasting through their four-match northern tour unbeaten would be a familiar scenario for the All Blacks.

Results naturally fall into place on a regular basis in Europe. 

Except for one slip-up against the Barbarians, that scenario has become largely common practice this time of year for the past decade.

Why should this tour be any different?

Let's be honest, powerhouse opponents in the Rugby Championship ranked one, two, three and seven are mostly tougher prospects. So, in that regard, the subconscious could be telling the All Blacks the hard yards have already been done this year.

Wales and England will be stern tests, but the reality is any upset would be one of seismic proportions.

The chasm in class between the southern and northern hemispheres has reflected an imbalance of power for some time. This year's June international series only confirmed the status quo.

Scotland's 9-6 triumph in torrential rain over the second-string Wallabies was the only success story for the frustrated, deprived northerners. Argentina even rolled World Cup finalists France in one of their two-test series.

"That's not anything new this year. It's been happening for a wee while," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said of the southern dominance. "What it does say is teams up here will be striving even harder to rectify that problem."

There are, of course, many dangers in letting your mind wander from the task at hand; merely expecting the trend to continue.

Next year's Lions tour to Australia also provides motivation for the north to, finally, rise to the challenge and dispel suspicions they are still dragging the chain.

Hansen is conscious of those risks and recent history and has therefore demanded his players keep their foot on the throat.   

"We can't allow complacency or over confidence to get in the way of our performance," he emphasised.

Part of the northerner's perceived "problem" is their limited skill capacity and persistent dark-age style.

Wales are the exception. Their willingness to give the ball air and play what is in-front of them has been endearing. Much of that can be attributed to high-profile Kiwi influences. Warren Gatland has enhanced the efforts of Graham Henry and, to a lesser extent, Hansen. Although, the Welsh are yet to prove the can handle extreme pressure.   

Outside of Gatland's men, England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and even France harness minimal attacking instincts, despite the modern game rewarding such endeavours. In most cases it appears an inherent weakness.  

Hansen doesn't expect to encounter anything different on this tour; the largely dour forward-orientated, kick-chase tactics will again be prevalent from the opposition.    

"They play subtlety different because the environment is different. There is more emphasis on numbers one to nine, where our game there is probably more emphasis right through the whole team and having multi-skilled players who can run with the ball," Hansen said.

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"Here the conditions don't allow you to do that. Other than probably Wales, the attitude is more about grinding out a win. That is the style of rugby they are used to and are good at and you can't blame them for that. You play to your strengths."

The All Blacks' tactics won't differ drastically from what's worked this year - and it's hard to shake the sense their firepower will again be too much to handle, particularly for the limited Scots and Italians. The world champion's ruthless, frantic, up-tempo game-plan blew away the Springboks, Wallabies, Pumas and Irish this season.

The only hope for their northern foes is to slow the pace. Otherwise, they'll be gasping for breath and contemplating another disconcerting November. 

 "If we allow our ball to get tied up it will be a fight, but hopefully we do run them out of gas," Richie McCaw said.

- Fairfax Media

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