All Blacks coach must iron out imperfections for Springboks battle in Albany
OPINION: If a customer satisfaction survey was launched to assess the All Blacks' efforts this year, an avalanche of ticks would clog the column titled "modest performance".
First, the facts. The All Blacks have a record of five victories, a loss and a draw. Samoa were dealt to, the series against the British and Irish Lions was shared 1-1, the Bledisloe Cup was retained following two victories over the Aussies and Argentina were beaten 39-22 last Saturday night.
The Lions might have departed New Zealand two months ago, but that drawn series remains a major sore point for many in the All Blacks' corner. Wins against the Wallabies in Sydney and Dunedin, and Argentina in New Plymouth, have partially buried the sour memories of what unfolded against the Lions but each performance has had more than its share of bum notes.
So the questions keep coming.
* Boks have blueprint to beat ABs
* Fifita, beast or silent assassin?
* Boks, ABs depth tested up front
* Hansen: Boks are dangerous
* Guildford's Heartland redemption
* McMillan to coach NZ Maori
It's irrational to expect any team, even if they are the world champions, to completely dominate opponents. Most people get that. It's the mistakes, many of the self-inflicted variety, that infuriate.
All Blacks Steve Hansen has doggedly defended first five-eighths Beauden Barrett's reputation as a goal kicker, yet you wonder how much longer this can continue.
Barrett missed three conversions against Argentina, prior to Lima Sopoaga taking over the job and nailing three conversions and a penalty.
Although he converted all five tries against the Wallabies in the epic 35-29 win in Dunedin, Barrett missed three conversions in the first Bledisloe match in Sydney. Up and down stuff.
Hansen isn't going to throw the playmaker under the bus when commenting on this, yet he could potentially save his team grief by asking fullback Damian McKenzie, if he starts, to take the kicks for goal against the Springboks in Albany on Saturday night.
Maybe if the All Blacks were playing at Eden Park, a ground where they have not lost since 1994, they could bank on the psychological edge being worth a few more points and be more liberal when managing their risk against the Boks.
But they aren't. Put it this way, the Springboks won't grizzle about playing in front of a smaller crowd, which will have a liberal sprinkling of ex-pats who have settled on the North Shore, at QBE Stadium.
While Hansen is having a chat to Barrett he could ask him to more prudent with his discipline. Barrett shot out of the line against the Pumas at Yarrow Stadium, earning a yellow card. It was his fifth of the season, his most recent being when he got binned during the Hurricanes' semifinal loss to the Lions in the Super Rugby semifinal in Johannesburg.
If the decision to undermine the Pumas' fast-moving defensive line with short kicks at Yarrow Stadium was predetermined, fine. But when it resulted in possession being traded for more defensive work, Barrett should have had the confidence, or be granted permission, to switch tactics.
The Springboks weren't terribly convincing during their 23-all draw against the Wallabies in Perth last weekend. However, they were very effective in contesting ruck ball, their defensive lineout work was aggressive, and they did show some tenacity. Having trailed by 10 points they reeled in their opponent and held the lead until Bernard Foley kicked the equaliser.
The Boks don't let go of the rope if there is a chance of pulling themselves out of the furnace, and Springboks coach Allister Coetzee will remind his boys that the All Blacks have repeatedly allowed their minds to wander for long periods during the wins in New Plymouth, Dunedin and Sydney.
The All Blacks have not lost to South Africa since going down 27-25 in Johannesburg in 2014. The most recent defeat to this opponent was when Frans Steyn killed them with his massive boot in the 32-29 defeat in Hamilton in 2009.
Expect mass changes for the battle of Albany. Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Aaron Smith, Sam Cane, Liam Squire and Sam Whitelock will probably all be ushered back, while Wyatt Crockett has to start in place of the wounded Joe Moody.
Barrett should stay, not be spat out to give Sopoaga a shot at the No 10 jersey. Hansen, in turn, has the right to expect plenty something in return.
Possible All Blacks XV: Damian McKenzie, Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.