For a bloke who just swept France three zip, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen cut a frustrated figure last night.
The final act in the series' whitewash was far from convincing. Hansen and captain Kieran Read knew standards had slipped.
It's hard to recall another test where Dan Carter could not stamp his authority. The first five-eighth's struggles behind a forward pack that battled for ascendancy epitomised the fumbling display.
"Tonight it wasn't easy for Dezzy [Carter]," Hansen said of his playmaker. "He'd probably like another test next week to have another go of it. As we saw with [Aaron] Cruden it takes a little while to get into the saddle."
After returning from a broken hand, Carter was not alone. Halfback Piri Weepu did not provide the same crisp delivery as Aaron Smith or Tawera Kerr-Barlow. A distinct lack of direction and decisive decision-making was evident from the halves. Carter found it difficult to play his natural game while adjusting to the All Blacks' new tactics. "They've played a lot together so that wasn't an issue," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said of the Weepu-Carter combination. "The first half we didn't get a lot of front-foot ball to play off. Clearly we were struggling to get a lot of tempo from ruck ball.
"They'll certainly be better for the run, particularly with Dan in terms of understanding the structure. The flow wasn't natural for him, but I thought he built well into it in the second half. Kerr-Barlow came on and played with the tempo we know he can. We're pleased with that."
Hansen was quick to put frequent errors down to growing pains. "We can sit here and be frustrated with tonight's performance because it wasn't the best, but we've got to look at the whole package. We'll give ourselves a pass mark," Hansen said.
"We don't want any mistakes, but the opposition have got something to say about that. Tonight they played their best match."
Read was disappointed not to finish on a more emphatic note.
"It's about backing up performances and tonight wasn't where we wanted to be as a group. I'm sure we'll look back at the week and figure out maybe where things weren't quite as sharp as we needed them to be."
French captain Thierry Dusautoir, who played his final test in New Zealand, hopes to get one back in Paris in November.
"Maybe I feel a little nostalgic," he said. "It would have been nicer to finish with a victory."
- Sunday Star Times
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