ABs look to increase tempo under new laws
The All Blacks believe rugby's new shot-clock style ruck law will work in their favour when they take their up-tempo game to the northern hemisphere this month.
The four tests to be played over the next four weekends will be played under the IRB's new trial regulations, including the five-second ruck clearance rule and a shorter scrum engagement sequence.
As Steve Hansen's touring squad of 32 assembled in Auckland today, the feeling was that any laws that helped speed the game up were just fine by them as they look to continue a northern tour winning streak that stretches back to 2002.
The All Blacks open with Scotland next Sunday (Monday morning NZ time) and then meet Italy, Wales and England over the following weekends in the north's annual international rugby jamboree.
"I don't think the five-second rule will alter us too much," said No 8 Kieran Read who's tipped to lead the All Blacks in one of the first two tests. "We want to play a pretty quick game. It's more getting used to the scrum call and making sure we can adjust to how we're going to attack the scrums. Hopefully [the new laws] will be a good thing for the game."
The theory is that the stodgier teams, like England and Italy, may struggle a bit with the raising of the tempo, with just five seconds to gather themselves before the next phase. The faster the pace, the more it should suit the world champions.
But Read reckoned that it would only hasten a process that was already under way in the north towards their teams making more use of the ball they win.
"It's only really going to change maybe the way they use their ruck ball, but those teams up there are starting to change the way they play and trying to be a lot more attacking. The last few years they've showed they can throw the ball around."
New All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow is probably as well placed as anyone to judge the impact of the new regulations, given as he played them all season with Waikato in the provincial championship.
"It's just the time at the base of the ruck that you don't have to organise forwards with," said the rookie No 9. "When play slows down it only slows for five seconds then you've got to go again. Probably the biggest thing for me was adapting and organising a bit faster."
Kerr-Barlow said the streamlined scrum engagement was something everyone got used to pretty quickly and he offered a neat prognosis on what the key difference was with the five-second ruck.
"If you're winning at the end of a match and there's one minute to go the old rules probably suit you better. If you're not, the new ones suit.
"The ball is in play a lot longer, and with a minute to go and a team up by a couple of points and in possession the game can still be won by other side. I think it's much more exciting. You've got to play the whole 80 and can't slow it down like you used to be able to."
Openside flanker understudy Sam Cane, who is expected to start against either Scotland or Italy, reckoned the All Blacks would take the law changes in their stride.
"We've generally been playing with a pretty high tempo and I think you'll find it doesn't sit at the base of our ruck for more than five seconds very often," said the 20-year-old from the Bay of Plenty.
"Where it will come into effect is maybe close to the line where you try to slow up a bit and get some go-forward with the forwards. We generally only do that for a couple of phases then whip it wide anyway.
"Maybe it will speed up the opposition's game because they like to slow it down and hopefully that will work in our favour."
The All Blacks had their first training session in warm conditions today in West Auckland and were to fly out for the UK tonight.
Coach Steve Hansen has pledged to use all 32 of his players through the first two tests, before settling on his top lineup for the last two internationals against the higher ranked sides Wales and England.