OPINION: Painting the All Blacks as an unwelcome distraction is a tad short-sighted. They are, after all, the pinnacle of our game.
There’s been widespread criticism of the All Blacks’ 38-man wider training group camps. Some say the squad is bloated. Others have questioned their timing, in the lead-up to crucial Super Rugby derbies. They’ve also been labelled a disruption.
All fair points, but it’s worth considering a different viewpoint.
Had the All Blacks not gathered now, and were to lose the first test against France at Eden Park early next month, the furore over why limited preparation wasn’t combated with better planning would be deafening.
Let’s not forget France will be highly motivated. Les Bleus still firmly believe they were robbed in that gripping World Cup final. For them, referee Craig Joubert is the same villain as Wayne Barnes.
After a shambolic Six Nations the French may appear out-of-their-depth. But anyone who knows anything about their culture realises they are complex creatures. This three-test series will be anything but a cakewalk.
“If you don’t respect them, they’ll thump you,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen noted.
One six-day test week is not enough time to pull together players from all over the country to unsure they are on the same page. Even the senior leadership group needs time to soak up different messages.
In their first assignment of the year the All Blacks have a relatively new captain at test level in Kieran Read.
They have hinted at evolving their attacking game-plan; they have integrated new players who will now feel comfortable in the environment.
Should injuries strike, those rookies will have confidence and knowledge to seamlessly slot in. All this before absorbing what the French might offer.
Covering these areas is no once-over-lightly-task. The All Blacks management aren’t stupid. They know leading players that assembled in Mt Maunganui weren’t up for high intensity training. That’s why players spent time in the hot pools and around the blackboard. They barely made it to a jog, let alone any contact work.
The All Blacks have some of the best fitness gurus in the country. This wasn’t a flogging exercise. It was tactical planning; a necessary, pragmatic approach.
“It’s a juggling act, but we’re all professionals,” Dan Carter said. “That’s the beauty of it. We can nail our game-plan and how the team is selected. When we go into camp we don’t have to worry about the little things. We can concentre on executing it which will take a lot of stress off our test week.
“The coaches have made sure while we’re in this camp for two-and-a-half days that our focus is here. But as soon as it’s finished, then our focus has to go back on our franchises and just park everything that we’ve learnt so far.”
There’s little doubt Super Rugby coaches face a challenge this weekend and next. It would be frustrating to be Todd Blackadder and Dave Rennie, who have two days to prepare for a huge battle in Hamilton, or Sir John Kirwan who is disadvantaged with the Brumbies coming to Auckland.
In the end, though, the needs of the national team will always come first.
Is an extra six days really too much to ask? The alternative, of course, could be a loss to France.
Nobody wants that.
Who was the best-performed All Blacks forward on the northern tour?