Ugly victory gives ABs plenty to improve on

Last updated 05:00 10/06/2013

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Ugly victory gives ABs plenty to improve on

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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.

OPINION: 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.

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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


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