Plenty to sort out before return test - or is it too late?

TJ Perenara clears the ball from a ruck during the All Blacks loss to Australia. Photo: Getty Images
TJ Perenara clears the ball from a ruck during the All Blacks loss to Australia. Photo: Getty Images
The record defeat against the Wallabies was a shock to most All Black fans. But is it the end of an era of All Black dominance or just a forgettable night where it all went against them? Rugby writer Steve Hepburn has some answers to some thoughts and looks forward to Eden Park on Saturday night.

Ben Smith is past it and it is time to get rid of him

A couple of average games from Smith and the reactionaries want him down the road. Sure, it did not fire for him against the Springboks or in Perth on Saturday night. But wingers are so reliant on those inside them.

He got little room to move and never received the ball in a good position. Having a fullback who pops up all over the place is also doing Smith no favours. Beauden Barrett is doing his own thing and it ain't involving too many others. And don't listen to John Hart.

We're too old

Certainly some of the tight five looked more like the cast of Dad's Army and were standing back too much. The men up front lost the advantage-line battle and the Australians just swept on to the front foot too easily.

Kieran Read stood out but was that because his team-mates were playing to his slow level?

Father Time waits for no-one and professional sport is about being on the edge and making things happen. The All Blacks did neither in Perth. Experience is a big factor but energy and desire are more important. Many have peaked and are heading in the wrong direction.

Too many in the squad

After four years surely the coaches know the top team. Just pick them and play them every game. The great Australian cricket team of the Warne and McGrath era just simply played in every game. There was no chopping and changing. No rotations to see how players perform. Pick the best 23 players and play them every week. If you get an injury the next-best guy comes in. This trait of trialling players in tests is because of Steve Hansen's lack of respect for Super Rugby.

We can't work out the rush defence

Everyone is rushing up in defence and the All Blacks cannot combat it. All they can do is silly chip kicks which most of the time just give the ball back to the opposition. The side is struggling to get around the flat standing defence. Apparently it is a work is progress - well progress is glacial at best.

Two playmakers is one too many

Does a team need two playmakers? Has one not been enough for the past 100-odd years? At test level Barrett is just better at the moment than Richie Mo'unga. Put Barrett back in the No10 jersey, put Smith at fullback and Mo'unga in the reserves. Mo'unga was good at Super Rugby. But memo to those north of the Waitaki River - this ain't Super Rugby.

The king is dead, long live the king

The great All Black era of dominance is over. No-one is playing the game at the lower levels and it is beginning to show at the upper ends. Too many players overseas is hurting the national side. When rugby went professional in 1996, plenty of people said the northern hemisphere countries would dominate. That did not happen but perhaps it will in the future.

What needs to change?

Give Atu Moli a starting chance and Joe Moody a breather. Jackson Hemopo instead of Patrick Tuipulotu. Stick with the same loose forward trio. Sonny Bill Williams to come back in. Barrett back to pivot and Smith at fullback.

Only a convincing win will do at Eden Park

Everyone is pointing to the All Blacks losing in 2011 and 2015 and bouncing back to go well at the World Cup. But history is meaningless, really. For every so-called good luck charm when losing there are 20 which do not stack up. The side needs to wash away the defeat in Perth by going out and smashing - and really smashing - the Wallabies on Saturday night. The side has to win every statistic, including, of course, the most important one - the one on the scoreboard.



If history is meaningless then SBW shouldn't be anywhere near the side and overall selection shouldn't be based on form - yet time and time again we get proven otherwise ( a la Dan Carter in 2015). I get what you're trying to say Steve but we're all on the verge of being hysterical over this loss.

Having said that, the coaching should have had a change after the 2017 Lions Tour. We also lost that spark since Wayne Smith departed, need something similar back in the fold - Tony Brown could provide that?

Hepburn's continuing anti-Canterbury agenda is hilarious. Mo'unga was one of the few ABs to emerge with any credit on Sat — made 3 try-saving tackles, kicked 4 out of 5, and was always a threat on attack on the few occasions he got the ball. By contrast, Barrett kept getting in the way, kicked aimlessly, and was a tackling turnstile.

And, of course, Ben Smith is a protected species. Apparently a 33yo wing/fullback is to be excused repeated sub-par displays, but a 30yo prop (Moody) should be dropped immediately despite his main problem being that he's had very little rugby. And Smith's travails are all the fault of the tight 5 (although it's hard to see how this explains his being unable to take the ball in the air) while Mo'unga, despite being much more at the mercy of the tight 5, is cut no such slack.


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