Marshall: All Blacks were close to perfection

JUSTIN MARSHALL
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2013
All Blacks
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
TOP JOB: The All Blacks made very few mistakes against the French on Saturday night.

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OPINION: What an All Black performance that was on Saturday night. I can pay it no greater compliment than to say it reminded me vividly of a very special test I was involved in back in 1996.

There were similarities between the way we played to thrash the Wallabies 43-6 in miserable conditions in Wellington back in '96 and the clinical nature of Saturday night's 30-0 shutout of the French at AMI Stadium.

The execution, the quality rugby played in difficult conditions against fancied opposition - it's been a long time since we've seen that ruthless efficiency from our All Blacks.

The conditions in Wellington that day were worse, but it was still wet and slippery on Saturday night - though you wouldn't have known it given some of the execution by the All Blacks.

Their defence was great but when they made breakouts there were seven or eight pairs of hands involved, catching and passing, dropping ball on to the foot, inside passes, flick passes - incredible skills in tricky conditions.

I recall them spilling the ball once in a backline move and maybe a couple of other rare errors. All the high balls were caught, all the kicks went where they were supposed to. They made very few mistakes, and everything they did, they did well.

Plus the French shouldn't be dismissed. They offered plenty to the contest, but the All Blacks were close to perfection, just as we were all those years ago in Wellington. You don't often see that because of the way we like to play the game.

The game-plan application was superb too. They had a clear idea of how they wanted to play and where to play it. The scrum was good, the lineout superb, and the All Blacks won all the small contests.

Then throw the mental state in there. Sometimes there can be a lack of desire or effort. But not here. The second try off the back of making close to 40 tackles showed that.

After defending the line for that amount time, conceding a dropped goal wouldn't have been catastrophic. The French had nothing else to go to when Frederic Michalak popped back into the pocket looking for three points.

But these hungry All Blacks weren't satisfied with that. They must have been nearly out on their feet, but when the charge-down happened they pounced and still had the desire, energy and attitude to run 80m to score. That's uncoachable. It has to come from within.

It's a real positive sign moving towards 2015. We're starting to see players stepping into pretty impressive positions in terms of our history.

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The Nos 2, 7 and 10 jerseys are traditionally important in our game. Look who have occupied them in recent years: Mealamu, Hore and Fitzpatrick; McCaw, Jones and Kronfeld; Carter, Mehrtens and Fox. 

They're foundation players we've been able to build teams around.

Now we've got players stepping into those key jerseys taking a huge step in the right direction.

Dane Coles you could argue probably had a pretty average first test but he showed in Christchurch the level he can play at. Aaron Cruden did likewise and Sam Cane showed what a good young No 7 he is.

I don't believe McCaw, Carter, Hore or Mealamu are finished by any means, but they're getting older and their physical reliability is not what it once was. We need players coming in and performing on the big occasions.

The succession plan of Hansen's certainly looks on track.

Kieran Read's captaincy comes into that category too. Looking at him you see the same qualities of McCaw - maturity, control of the game-plan, control of his players and their trust in him. That's a big part of building for the future.

The All Blacks are on the right track and we should celebrate performances like Saturday night's, even though greater challenges are to ahead in coming months.

I also wanted to touch on the great privilege I had to be in Fiji last week to play for the Classic All Blacks in a match to mark their centenary.

Fiji has given a lot to world rugby and it was nice to help them celebrate the first 100 years of their history. They're in an upward spiral too, their results have been good, and they played a pretty clinical game against us. It was good to see they've got some good coaching and long may it continue.

For the record, we lost the game after leading at halftime. And though I got a real thrill and adrenalin buzz from being part of top-level rugby again, I can confirm I will be staying retired and confining my rugby to the occasional run in club rugby.

Looking at the new wave of All Black rugby on Saturday night, I'm pretty comfortable our game's in good hands.

- Stuff

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