Ben Smith may become the obvious successor to Conrad Smith
at centre. Photo by Getty
The All Blacks headed off on Thursday on a tour of
Europe. Gregor Paul looks at 10 goals they want to achieve.
1 MIND McCAW
Protecting Richie McCaw is the No 1 priority. The skipper has
been subjected to too many cheap shots - particularly this
year - and there is no reason to believe he'll be left alone
in the Northern Hemisphere.
The puzzling thing about the two incidents of note this year
- the Dean Greyling 'clean out' and Scott Higginbotham's head
butt - was the lack of retribution sought by McCaw's
It was strange in Dunedin to see McCaw attacked and for the
rest of the All Blacks to stand back. Look through footage of
any similar incidents in the past and within a millisecond
Brad Thorn would have his big paws swinging on behalf of the
skipper, closely followed by Jerome Kaino. The reluctance to
sort out the cheats and cowards who have a go at McCaw needs
to end - one in, all in.
2 BUILD THE BLINDSIDE
Build the intensity of competition between blindsides Liam
Messam and Victor Vito. The latter was the man who began 2012
in the No6 shirt but he had lost it by the third test to a
player not originally in the squad.
Messam has been a revelation - delivering the aggressive
physical game the coaches want from their No 6. Is he the
long-term answer, though? Possibly. But Vito, at 109kg and
1.93m, is that bit bigger, more explosive and the better
To date, though, Vito hasn't delivered the abrasive
consistency required: he's lacked the brutality and
directness of Messam. The coaching panel feel that because
he's only 25, that side of his game is still a work in
progress as it was with Messam and indeed his predecessor,
Kaino. But the coaches want to see progress from Vito on this
3 CLEAN UP THE CLEAN-OUT
One of the few facets in which the All Blacks have been
consistently disappointing in 2012 is the clean-out. In 2010
and 2011, they focused on their accuracy and technique -
perfecting the art of hitting in limited numbers and shifting
opposition bodies to release quick ball. That hasn't happened
in 2012 and one area where all the northern sides are strong
is the breakdown.
With quick ball, the All Blacks could damage all four sides
they meet but they will get it only if the forwards improve
their work at the clean-out and find the dynamism that has
4 LINE UP SMITH TO REPLACE SMITH
Backs coach Ian Foster is convinced that Ben Smith, most
regularly used by the Highlanders at fullback, is better
suited to centre. Smith is much like his namesake Conrad, in
that he ended Super Rugby as one of the tournament's leading
linebreakers and achieved that through timing, footwork and
guile rather than brute strength.
One of the quickest players in the squad, an innately
intelligent ball player and surprisingly robust defender,
Smith, if he can improve his distribution, may become the
obvious successor to Conrad Smith at centre. The injured
Richard Kahui is another contender but he offers so much on
the wing that there is reluctance to pick him elsewhere.
Ben Smith's half hour in Brisbane alluded to his promise and
he's expected to start against either Scotland or Italy in
5 MAKE A STATEMENT
Make an emphatic statement about their overall ability, class
and skill levels. It won't matter to the Northern Hemisphere
media that the All Blacks have arrived unbeaten in 17 tests
and as defending world champions.
Respect will still have to be earned - the All Blacks will
need to deliver high tempo, accurate, relentless rugby to
convince everyone up north that they are as good as their
world ranking says they are.
England and Wales will both fancy they can get close and
maybe even cause an upset. The British papers will be full of
this and there is no better way to kill debate than with
breathtaking rugby that destroys the opposition. It is one of
the All Blacks' stated goals this year to establish
themselves as the world's dominant side - only four ruthless
performances will ensure that aim is achieved.
6 EXPERIENCE LIFE WITHOUT RICHIE
The influence of McCaw doesn't have to be diluted but the
squad does have to prove they can cope without him when he
sits out one of the first two tests. McCaw's reach across the
team is incredible: he sets the standards on every front. He
is the man who refuses to cut corners, instils calm, inspires
and ensures that individuals have a handle on the
expectations of being an All Black.
He is helped by a core group of experienced leaders such as
Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Kieran Read and Conrad Smith. But
while they are useful lieutenants, there is a sense that the
whole team has got used to McCaw taking control at training
and on the field and that a few players need to step up and
take more responsibility and ownership. McCaw's absence will
demand that others do more with the point made that they
can't ease off when the skipper returns.
7 BRING ON BEAUDEN
Beauden Barrett was freakishly capable when he played for the
Hurricanes this year and at just 21, he's showing as much
class, composure and potential as Daniel Carter did at the
same age. Carter's coming of age performance came in July
2005 when he was 23. Could Barrett be capable of such sublime
rugby when he reaches the same age?
If he's handled right and given the chance - he probably
could. The basic skills are in place and all Barrett needs is
exposure to the higher demands and intensity of test
football. Arguably, Barrett is the better prospect
than Aaron Cruden - the former kicks longer, is bigger and
less reliant on his ability to dance through the traffic.
This tour will be about providing Barrett with a platform to
establish how much ability he really has.
8 SEE WHETHER DANE IS GREAT
The All Blacks are not convinced they have a genuine
test-class third hooker and have picked Dane Coles more to
fulfil a need rather than believing he's the long-term
answer. But they could be persuaded they have something
worthwhile in Coles if they can see obvious improvements in
his game. He's mobile, aggressive and a handy ball carrier
and tackler. Big ticks for that.
Less certain is his scrummaging ability - he'll be spending
hours with forwards coach Mike Cron improving his technique.
Coles will also need to sharpen his discipline and ease up on
his desire to get involved off the ball. Any hint he's more
focused on snotting blokes to prove himself and he can kiss
goodbye his test career.
9 DELIVERY TIME
Ali Williams and to a lesser extent Piri Weepu are not seen
universally as merit selections. Both have relied on their
previous form, experience and established relationships with
the coaching panel to make the tour. Williams in particular
is under pressure to deliver convincing evidence he can still
play at this level. Steve Hansen continually refers to
Williams' historic ability to deliver. That's fine only up to
a point: there must surely be a cut-off where history stops
being a relevant guide to the present? This tour is maybe a
line in the sand opportunity:
tell them both that if they don't deliver, their previous
achievements in the test jersey will effectively be
discounted when the side is selected in 2013. If they still
want to be involved next year, it will be because they have
earned their places outright.
10 GOOD GOALKICKING
Their goalkicking has not been awful, but nor has it been as
accurate as the All Blacks want. They look to convert 80 per
cent of their kicks but have been operating at around 70 per
cent through the June tests and Rugby Championship. That's
okay - but it makes a huge difference when the goal-kickers
are nailing four from five. Carter missed two penalties in
Brisbane that he normally would have landed and which would
have cranked the pressure on the Wallabies, forcing them into
taking more risks and then making more mistakes.
- Herald on Sunday