Robson: All Blacks must show more arrogance

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 23/08/2014
Steve Hansen
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BIG TEST: Steve Hansen's All Blacks need to re-imose their arrogance against the Wallabies tonight.

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OPINION: Arrogance is often a dirty word when it comes to the All Blacks, but it is a quality they need to re-impose on the Wallabies at Eden Park.

In Sydney, Steve Hansen's side were premeditated to the point of passive.

There has been a lot of talk about what went wrong for the All Blacks during their 12-all draw with the Wallabies last weekend.

Doom and gloom merchants have seemed obsessed this past week with a fall of the empire scenario which has painted Hansen and Richie McCaw as the last pharaohs.

Back to reality though.

The All Blacks have not lost in 18 tests and that didn't change in Sydney.

What did was the All Blacks mindset. Last week they had an understandable game plan to kick in the wet conditions.

What would have disappointed and alarmed Hansen was that his playmakers became so prescriptive that they failed to play what was in front of them.

Hurried, partially charged, or poor kicks from Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Ma'a Nonu, and Julian Savea highlighted the problem.

They seemed to be blindly following a blueprint. That's the poor decision making Hansen and Ian Foster have lamented this week.

It's a mentality that creeps in when a team wants something too much. It's afflicted the All Blacks at World Cups, even in the 2011 final against France.

Kicking in Sydney was a smart tactic, but not to the point of playing yourself out of the contest.

Line breaking backs like Nonu, Malakai Fekitoa and Julian Savea were reduced to spectators, more focused on chasing kicks than carrying the ball into contact.

It gave Australia's rapid defensive line confidence.

They raced up two and three wide and on the few occasions when Cruden moved the ball the All Blacks were caught behind the advantage line, sometimes by as much as 15 or 20 metres.

In contrast, Australia kept ball in hand. They ran direct lines at the defence. They held the ball. They grew in confidence as tiring tight forwards like Owen Franks and Wyatt Crockett started to miss first up tackles.

The All Blacks need to show their arrogant streak at Eden Park and play with more freedom. The fear of losing must be replaced by the expectation of dominance.

They must be the bullies who dictate the collision. That means taking the ball to the gain line, not playing deep behind a false first wave of runners.

It means challenging the Wallabies forwards to defend for more than one or two phases at a time rather then kicking away possession.

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It means bringing their most physical ball carriers Kieran Read, McCaw, Brodie Retallick and Savea into the game hard and early.

An intriguing element is how the All Blacks will adapt to the loss of second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu.

His replacement Ryan Crotty and the returning Conrad Smith provide a same-same midfield not dissimilar to those seen in the Crusaders this year.

That team used Nemani Nadolo's power and bulk from the wing to counter their lack of physicality in the midfield and the All Blacks may well look to Savea to do the same.

A closer, more confrontational attack would suck in the Wallabies rushing wide defenders and open space on the outsides.

Liam Messam's presence should allow Read to play a tighter role in close. Messam tends to stay wide with Dane Coles after set piece, then try to create havoc on the fringes when recycled ball returns.

There is no doubt the Wallabies are improving. Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Wycliff Palu and Kurtley Beale are all on top of their games.

The All Blacks helped water their confidence in Sydney by handing them possession. Tonight, in their fortress, they need to starve the Wallabies by holding onto the ball as though it is their right.

- The Dominion Post

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