Wilson: Plenty of smart play and show of steel

Last updated 05:00 16/06/2013

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Now that was a performance worthy of marking the All Blacks' 500th test! What a special night for All Blacks rugby it was in Christchurch.

OPINION: And when we look back on this second test, the opening eight minutes of the second spell will live long in our memories.

In defending against 26 phases from a committed French side before breaking out and Ben Smith scoring one of the great test tries, Steve Hansen's 2013 All Blacks made an intimidating statement to the rest of the rugby world.

That was the game over there and then. It takes immense conviction, belief and commitment to resist a relentless attack of the quality the French launched. But to then charge down a kick, break out and score a brilliant try underlined the steel this All Blacks squad has.

Not content with that, the All Blacks then showed an assassin's pride, keeping the foot on the throat of the French to rack up a scoreline that few would have predicted after the first test.

This was a victory for brainpower as much as skill.

It's not like France were ordinary last night. They frequently looked dangerous with the ball and to keep the tourists scoreless for the entire 80 minutes -- and for the first time ever against us -- will leave Hansen as satisfied as he was with the attacking efforts.

At Eden Park, New Zealand were comprehensively outplayed by France at the breakdown and despite the All Blacks' win, a fierce physical encounter was always expected in Christchurch.

The All Blacks were muscular and fronted in that important area - but it was their use of the grey matter that really caught my attention.

Those street smarts allowed them to dominate territory, particularly in the first half when 73 per cent of the opening 40 minutes was played in the French half.

What impressed me most about the All Blacks' kicking game was the intelligence they employed. It was very rare that a New Zealand kick did not find grass. That brought valuable extra seconds for the All Blacks to pressure France with a quality chasing game, it allowed the All Blacks to dominate territory and gradually squeeze the French.

The option-taking and composure under the high ball from the All Blacks was faultless. At critical times, the thinking was always clear and immediate from the All Blacks' decision-makers.

It makes you wonder where Hansen goes from here. What does he do for this third "dead rubber" test. But any suggestion the All Blacks coach might have had a troubled sleep last night is far from reality.

Of all the top international coaches, he has the least worries!

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The victory also reinforced my belief that the All Blacks don't need a dominant scrum to win games

Teams believe they can get an edge over the All Blacks at scrum time, and attack them there. While having a steady platform is important, the New Zealanders have so many other strengths that the scrum is not the be-all and end-all.

There's no easy solution to an aspect of the game regarded as vital for a number of teams worldwide to compete at the highest level.

An international team with an accurate set piece, solid defence and a good kicking game can win a lot of test matches. South Africa and England have been pretty consistent with this theory in the professional era.

There's always two sides to a story. Of course we would love everyone to play like the All Blacks, but you rarely beat the All Blacks at their own game.

Rugby gets its unique flavour from having so many contestable areas, and so many ways to tactically approach the game.

The scrum, like the lineout, is also important because it requires a unique individual and body type, and rugby's need for a wide variety of athletes should never be compromised on.

The game's watchdogs are always looking for solutions, and the pre-bind is being trialled as we speak, so let's see what this change brings.

But the referee does not control the scrum. The players do.

And when the set piece goes wrong the pressure goes on the players to find a solution.

The scrum can be an intriguing battle - but hopefully not at the expense of the other key elements of the game.

- Sunday Star Times

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