Who played themselves out of the ABs?
All Blacks-England second test: Your analysis
The All Blacks remain on top of world rugby by the skin of their teeth.
The England team gave the All Blacks their biggest test since they last beat the All Blacks in England two years ago.
Within the first ten minutes I couldn't help but fast forward to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. England will be tough to beat on their home turf, not impossible, but among the favourites to take the Webb Ellis trophy.
Stand out All Blacks were apparent. Ben Smith has surely displaced the underwhelming Israel Dagg, a figment of his former self. What annoys me about Dagg is he gives a pronounced wince every time he falls over, especially when he does things that don't work out and make him look less than All Blackish.
For my part, Dagg has become complacent, taking his status as a senior All BLack for granted, something none of the older set, such as Keven Mealamu, Conrad Smith, or Dan Carter, would do. They all know that every game could be their last; they think, act and play that way and it sustains them to the limits of their humanity. Dagg's persona and the way he talks does not resemble this durable All Blacks' mould.
Brodie Retallick is playing like a madman with an unstoppable urge to get over and through his opponents.
Retallick was my man of the match, not the prettiest, but sure as hell plays like an effective maniac.
Julian Savea was the next most outstanding player. He exhibits more finesse about his play, tactics and use of his bulk than England's powerhouse back Manusamoa Tuilagi.
The more interesting question for me from Saturday's game was who played themselves out of the All Blacks, or at least moved themselves closer to the exit lounge?
Two names fall into this camp for me: the aging warhorse, hooker Kevin Mealamu, and raging bull, Richie McCaw.
It must be more than an irritation to know that your time as a world class athlete is nearing its zenith. While Mealamu and McCaw are effective, their capacity to be game changers is getting close to expiring.
My assessment is based totally on what I see on the box. In other words, a patriotic armchair critic.
McCaw's leadership is peerless among his cohort. McCaw has been to the gates of hell and back, redeemed himself as a world champion and continues to extract every ounce of strength and guile from his aging frame. A grateful nation could ask no more of such an outstanding human, being let alone from among the ranks of its professional athletes.
A knighthood and lifetime of speech making, interviews, books, TV cameos, and free jugs of ale at his local footy club await upon his eventual exit from the game he cherishes. One thinks of Sir Colin Meads, Sir Wilson Whineray, and Sir Brian Lahore as among the company in which McCaw's name will be heard in decades to come.
Now to Aaron Cruden. The diminutive general has the heart of a fearless lion within the frame of a more humble beast. Cruden does some amazing things, but his best might not be enough to hold out the gifted playmaker in Beauden Barrett.
While the coach's loyalty to first string players is admirable and undeniable in bringing about solidarity and certainty, in this instance, the second ranked player has earned a start.
Second ranked players, it seems, need to do something special on a consistent basis to unseat incumbents, and fair enough too. Barrett satisfies those high expectations. On that note, I would give Victor Vito a shot in Liam Messam's stead next weekend.
Now, how to keep the world champions ahead of the pack up to and including the Rugby World Cup? Is it more of the same or are radical changes in players, tactics and methods needed to reinvent the All Blacks?
Is a middle-of-the-road strategy the key? Mixing and matching tactics and players to keep things fresh and some balance between youth and experience in the team?
As a student of strategy, the right course of action lies in perfectly matching internal capabilities with external opportunities, coupled with shared vision, exceptional leadership and world class execution.
The world cup will not be won by the team with the most money (England and France would win by that score alone). The world cup will not be won by the team with the most world class players (they are fairly evenly distributed among the top five nations of England, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand).
The world cup will not be won by the team that plays the most enterprising style (the All Blacks have consistently earned that title at most Rugby World Cups save 1991 and 2007).
The rugby world cup will be won by the team that is the most well prepared, physically and mentally, for the challenge, and wants it most.
You can be certain that the All Blacks will be among the most well prepared teams at the Rugby World Cup. What is less certain is whether or not the All Blacks will want it more than any other team there.
We will not know that until after the opening rounds of the cup itself.
How then do we make sure our team want to win the tournament more than others?
The All Blacks need to be hungry for winning the Rugby World Cup. Hunger comes from learning to go without, making do and working hard for what one covets.
Spoiling those who already possess more than enough to sustain a comfortable life will have the opposite effect. We made this mistake in 2007. Moreover, to rely on past glories, and the players that take us there, as the basis for future success, is not a viable pathway - a mistake from 1991.
I am sure the All Blacks coaches have it all under control and good luck to them.
The All Blacks are certainly proving formidable, not to the mention the win makes for a good night's kip.
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