ABs pay price for going to well too often

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2012

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OPINION: New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew will happily bank the $4 million he negotiated with his England counterparts for yesterday's game at Twickenham.

He should then sit down and wonder if money is really everything when it comes to the All Blacks brand.

The add-on game of the tour should have been played at the start, not the end.

England were warming up as the All Blacks were winding down.

It's not the first time the All Blacks have hit the wall in the last match of an exhaustive season and it certainly won't be the last, not when Tew can squeeze the last drips of revenue out of a northern hemisphere tour.

It just doesn't make sense that the All Blacks would play their most daunting opposition at their most vulnerable time.

Not many, if any, saw the All Blacks' record defeat at Twickenham coming, but Tew should have seen the danger signs before signing off to play the match.

The tour schedule was arse about face. The All Blacks should have been playing Scotland yesterday before putting their feet up because, quite frankly, they could have put any side they liked out at Murrayfield and still won.

Take nothing away from England, they played a superbly accurate game against an All Blacks side that should feel embarrassed with their collective effort.

The challenge for the men in white is now to take that blueprint and expand on it because world rugby desperately needs teams such as England to be genuinely and consistently strong.

The All Blacks could easily pull out a number of excuses for being so limp - the stomach virus that swept through the squad, the distraction of Andrew Hore's disciplinary hearing, the doubt over whether Daniel Carter and Keven Mealamu would play and the "last game of the season syndrome" were all contributing factors for such a poor effort.

However, the problems that have surfaced in several mediocre performances in 2012 came together collectively to hurt the world champions.

Tighthead prop Owen Franks' technique at scrum time looked wrong, the lineout was average, halfback Aaron Smith's box kicking continues to be poor, as does the side's kicking game in general, while their overall breakdown work remains below par if sides commit numbers in the right areas.

The All Blacks are just like any side in the world who will struggle if they cannot slow opposition ball down.

Unluckily for them, they found an England side who grew rapidly in self belief and were handed gift points through a lack of discipline.

It would be an interesting exercise to review every one of the All Blacks' 14 tests this season and count how many times they have gifted the ball to the opposition through soft intercept passes.

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There have been some howlers but none worse than Kieran Read's pop-up to Manu Tuilagi, which resulted in the England centre putting the final nail in the All Blacks coffin.

What is frustrating is the All Blacks found a way back into the game between the 45th and 50th minute, when they probably didn't deserve to.

From there they showed a real lack of tactical appreciation and leadership because they wrongly held steadfastly to the view that they could just carry on with their open style when they needed to grind England out of the game.

Not that you can blame Richie McCaw entirely because it has worked so often in 2012.

It is frightening, however, just how insipid the All Blacks are when Carter, Conrad Smith and Read are all off their game.

Almost as frightening is the continued lack of a plan B when things are not going right and the All Blacks' inability to create space and revert to trying to crash over the top of their opposition.

Assistant coach Ian Foster spoke at halftime about the need to turn England around, especially with the speed their defensive line was working at, but we saw little or none of that.

England did to the All Blacks what the All Blacks have done to numerous sides this year, and good luck to them.

Their challenge now is to build enough quality in their next tier of players so when their challenging club season destroys the edge of this lot their momentum can be carried through.

Good luck to them because if they can find some consistency from such a young group then Swing Low Sweet Chariot will be heard louder and louder at Twickenham.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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