Northern tour confirms All Blacks' flaws rather than solves them - Paul Cully
OPINION: The All Blacks did incredibly well to beat France in Paris last weekend.
This was clearly a game too far for the All Blacks, and yet they still managed a 24-19 win.
Fatigue is a killer in sport and we see it all the time. When northern teams travel to New Zealand in June there is often one game in which the scoreline blows out.
The All Blacks looked spent in the French capital. Had the fixture been England at Twickenham I suspect they might have lost, so there are some real issues to address before the Lions tour next year.
The first is the occasional vulnerability on defence of their starting props Owen Franks and Joe Moody. If you look at the breaks the French made, a number were the result of French runners targeting their poor tackle technique or lack of lateral movement.
On one occasion, in just the 11th minute, Moody actually ends up tackling Franks in an attempt to bring down French No 6 Charles Ollivon, who blasts straight past him with a pretty straightforward running line off slow ball.
No one seems to want to talk about this issue, but it exists and it has been exploited by a number of teams this year. The All Blacks are in a bit of a bind here because Franks and Moody are clearly their best scrummaging props and they want to have them on from the start.
The question is whether this is just tiredness related. The easy answer would be yes, in which case it's a quick fix. Franks, in particular, started the year superbly for both the Crusaders and All Blacks so it's a question of getting him back up to that level.
The other area of concern is the second row. This is a bit more of a worry because there is no quick fix to depth issues.
The Lions could lose their four first-choice locks (for argument's sake Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Joe Launchbury) and still pick from the Gray brothers of Scotland, Devin Toner, Courtney Lawes, or Donnacha Ryan.
By comparison, if Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick go down in Super Rugby next year there will be some very nervous people in New Zealand.
For one reason or another, we don't any more talk about Luke Romano and Patrick Tuipolotu's ability to really step up.
We've certainly found out a lot more about Scott Barrett - the way he took responsibility against France when he came on was excellent. When the All Blacks needed an aggressive carry to get them moving forward again he was the man putting his hand up.
Longer term, the All Blacks have found a gem here, but the Lions tour will come early in his career - it's his readiness that is the question mark, and at 1.97m you just wonder if he has the height to be the dominant lineout forward at the highest level.
I have no doubt the All Blacks would love to have their hands on another 2m-plus athlete. They've certainly tried to develop one, but James Broadhurst has been cut down by concussion and they don't seem entirely convinced by Dominic Bird, even though he had a strong Super Rugby campaign and was very good against the Welsh for the Chiefs earlier this year.
Having flaws isn't the same as being a flawed team - the All Blacks' fundamentals are still strong, and they have a huge amount of back line firepower to return.
But there's enough to keep the coaches a little bit on edge over the summer, and that's no bad thing.