ABs looking to attack as French test looms
World rugby is a moving beast. Stand still and you will be overtaken.
To stay ahead of the chasing pack, the All Blacks have identified the need to evolve. During their three-day camp in Mt Maunganui, which concluded yesterday, much of the focus was on adopting a more attacking mindset this season.
It seems hard to fathom that Steve Hansen's men could further enhance their fast-paced expansive style that swept most aside last year. But that's exactly what Dan Carter revealed the 38-man squad had primarily been working on.
"There are a few changes for someone like myself who has played a few years with the coaches," Carter said. "Even from last year there are a few subtle changes; having the ability to attack anywhere on the field. It's still early stages and we're adopting lots of new things for the way we want to play."
By the end of last year opposition had worked out certain tactics. Traits, such as forward runners two-off the ruck, became predictable. This was exposed in the ugly defeat at Twickenham, the sole loss of an otherwise successful campaign.
It is understood this year's game-plan involves bringing more variations with ball-in-hand, altering the point of attack more frequently. The aim is to create uncertainty. The more opposition sit back and second guess themselves, the more vulnerable they become.
Previously, the All Blacks would attack in zones. There will always be a tactical kicking element and weather will dictate terms at times, but Hansen appears intent on not being restricted by risk.
As the navigators, Carter and his deputies Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and possibly Tom Taylor have been given the green light to attack from anywhere, if the opportunities are presented. This high-tempo approach suits New Zealand's dynamic athletes.
The loose forwards are fit and agile. Even grunt men like Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks are capable of skilful touches. The French should be worried.
"It's the same in terms of direction but as a first five you have the confidence of being able to attack wherever you want on the field and not specific areas which we've had in the past," Carter explained.
"Basically you have the confidence to call what you want through what the defence shows you which is always good to have.
"We notice teams do analyse us a lot so if they are putting pressure on one specific area we can attack others. It gives us a lot more balanced attack. That's what we've worked on."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen stressed the style and intensity of Super Rugby was completely different to test level. The camp had allowed them to implant ideas and get a head start with limited preparation available next month.
"How we want to play will be totally different to the five franchises," Hansen said. "It might be a little bit of each, but it will be different. We've asked them to come here and get an understanding of how we want to play our game."
While the All Blacks management team have been busy behind the scenes scoping footage of the French to avoid information overload, they didn't bothered the players with those details just yet. The focus was within.
"There's no point this group of guys looking at the French yet," Hansen said. "They've got opposition to play that they need to be worrying about. That's something you can do in preparation for test week. But you can't get everybody on the same page in one week."