Ugly victory gives ABs plenty to improve on

00:28, Jun 10 2013
All Blacks vs France - First test
Kiwi and French fans enjoying the atmosphere at Eden Park before kick-off.
All Blacks vs France - First test
The French team stands to face the haka.
All Blacks vs France - First test
All Blacks captain Kieran Read takes a run at the French defence.
All Blacks vs France - First test
Prop Wyatt Crockett takes it on the full.
All Blacks vs France - First test
First five Aaron Cruden attempts a kick at goal for the All Blacks.
All Blacks vs France - First test
French captain Thierry Dusautoir in action at Eden Park.
All Blacks vs France - First test
Aaron Smith smiles as he cruises in for a try.
All Blacks v France - First test
Flanker Sam Cane goes in under the posts for the All Blacks.
All Blacks vs France - First test
Ma'a Nonu makes a break for the All Blacks.
All Blacks vs France - First test
All Blacks fans singing aloud at Eden Park during the clash with France.
Ben Smith
Ben Smith, who set up a counter-attack try for Aaron Smith late in the first half, cuts through the French defence.
French fans
A section of French supporters show off their colours at Eden Park.
French huddle
The French side huddle before kick-off in the first test against the All Blacks.
Aaron Smith
All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith looks to force a turnover from French hooker Dimitri Szarzewski.
France score
France celebrate their first half try as dejected All Blacks look away.
All Blacks scrum
The engine room of the All Blacks, the front row of (from left) Owen Franks, Dane Coles and Wyatt Crockett pack down, with Liam Messam on the side.

Discussing the root cause of 16 turnovers and picking Aaron Cruden's brain would be a good place for the All Blacks to start their preparation for their rematch with France.

Winning ugly, 23-13, at Eden Park on Saturday night has provided an ironic upside for coach Steve Hansen who has some clear focal points ahead of the second test in Christchurch.

Accuracy rather than intensity should be the catch cry this week.

An easy out for the All Blacks would be referee Wayne Barnes' lenient interpretation of what he deemed legal at the breakdown in Auckland. But it would tell only half the story and the All Blacks should have known the Englishman's style well before kickoff.

Hansen has clearly ticked off a ball-in-hand approach for a side packed with attacking weapons and that's likely to continue through the year. For now though, he will not be OK with the ball retention rates at Eden Park.

Brodie Retallick was among those too eager to offload rather than set up the next phase, but Israel Dagg, Wyatt Crockett, Sam Cane and Ma'a Nonu were all guilty of throwing 50-50 passes.


The cleanout was an issue too, but was it as much to do with the ball carrier fighting harder to stay on his feet, as the work of the support players? Luke Romano and Kieran Read were both penalised for not releasing the ball on the ground after becoming isolated.

And in the backs there was too much crabbing across field. The best moments came when the All Blacks were direct, Ma'a Nonu showing the way up the middle of the park.

Which brings us back to Cruden.

The Chiefs first five-eighth was uncharacteristically out of sorts with a series of miscued kicks and a wayward pass marring his second-half efforts.

Cruden seemed in two minds as to whether to play territory or persevere with the wide game as the match tightened up.

He is at his best when he attacks the line and did that to good effect to get Nonu on the front foot in the buildup to Sam Cane's try.

But he did not seem comfortable kicking out of defence and the All Blacks must address that this week. Israel Dagg was used often last year as a kicking option and Cruden may well benefit from a second kicking option.

Whether Dagg is there to provide that remains to be seen.

Hansen has hinted at only a few changes. Ben Smith's irresistible form and Rene Ranger's cameo provide plenty of logic for a reshuffle in the back three.

Promoting fit again halfback Piri Weepu to the starting side as the first-choice goal kicker could also alleviate some pressure on Cruden.

It would be a harsh call on Aaron Smith, who was superb in Auckland.

But Cruden has done precious little goal kicking in Super Rugby this season with Gareth Anscombe taking the shots for most of the season and did not strike the ball well from the tee during the first test.

Victor Vito and Steven Luatua may also come into contention with neither used in Auckland. Liam Messam was sound, but would not suffer from a week off before the finale considering his huge workload this season.

Defensively the All Blacks can give themselves a big tick. They were sound and composed, particularly around the ruck.

And their systems out wide weren't bad either despite three line breaks. Wesley Fofana's try came after Nonu was tripped from behind trying to cover Florian Fritz, while two other breaks were the result of mismatches with Keven Mealamu and Wyatt Crockett missing French wing Adrien Plante.

The Dominion Post