The good, the bad and the ugly of All Black season

Aaron Smith gets the ball away as the All Blacks returned to form, thumping the Pumas 38-0 on...
Aaron Smith gets the ball away as the All Blacks returned to form, thumping the Pumas 38-0 on Saturday night. Photo: Getty Images
The All Blacks’ season was a bit all over the place. It featured some excellent performances, a few mixed ones and a shocker. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn looks over the year.

Steve Hepburn
Steve Hepburn

The good

The All Blacks put on a complete performance, especially in the first half, against Australia in Sydney to run up a record win. Richie Mo’unga was on fire that night and managed to find gaps in the home side’s defence. The forwards hit hard and were all power throughout the whole 80 minutes. The outside backs looked lively and took every chance which came along.

Aaron Smith continued his brilliant year and was as solid and dependable as ever. He does so many good things which just go unnoticed. There are now light years between Smith and the rest of the halfbacks in New Zealand. Hard to believe he is now 32.

Caleb Clarke was a ball of energy and made some telling runs. He had a fantastic game in Auckland where he carved up the opposition and was a constant worry for the defences. The only concern is he plays rather in isolation and never looks to move the ball on at the right time. He more than made the most of George Bridge getting injured.

The foot-on-the-throat approach which is the hallmark of the All Blacks returned in the dying minutes in the win over Argentina in Newcastle on Saturday night as the score ballooned out to 38-0. Half-chances were turned into tries.

Caleb Clarke (left) acknowledges the crowd with Jordie Barrett. Photo: Getty Images
Caleb Clarke (left) acknowledges the crowd with Jordie Barrett. Photo: Getty Images

The bad

The chance for the second-stringers to make an impact in Brisbane against the Australians was blown when the side lost a tight one. Forget about the red and yellow cards. There was simply some dumb and inaccurate play by the All Blacks in this game. It was an opportunity well and truly missed.

The discipline throughout the whole season was not great. Unrealistic plays and just silly actions meant the side conceded way too many penalties. We can all moan about the referee but the calls were even throughout.

Jordie Barrett is an enigma but he is not a right winger. He was the best fullback in the country in Super Rugby Aotearoa and then looked out of sorts on the right wing. He is no Ben Smith in that regard. Put Jordie in the No 15 jersey for a while and see how he goes.

TJ Perenara is off to Japan for a season. Will he wear the black jersey again? He plays that traffic cop role far too often in tests and looks a completely different player than the one who dominates Super Rugby games.

All Black skipper Sam Cane is tackled by Argentina's Francisco Gomez Kodela in the Pumas'...
All Black skipper Sam Cane is tackled by Argentina's Francisco Gomez Kodela in the Pumas' historic match win. Photo: Getty Images

The ugly

The 25-15 loss to Argentina was one of the worst All Black performance in years. They never fired a shot and were one-dimensional in all facets. Oh how Radio Sport must have wished it was back in business after that loss.

The attack never fired - too much cross-field running and an over-reliance on the power game. The side could never create space and the low-percentage chip kicks came out when all was lost which was often. How could Argentina create space in its backline and yet the All Blacks were unable to?

Beauden Barrett scored four tries in a test against Australia in 2018. A year later, he was back at fullback. He is still there and has become a rather defensive custodian who kicks the ball all the time while his running game seems to have disappeared. Is anyone actually convinced about the double playmaker role? And does it work with Jack Goodhue - not the world’s greatest distributor - at second five-eighth?

That penalty given away by Scott Barrett in Brisbane for which he was rightly yellow-carded - utterly brainless.

The All Blacks thank the crowd after the 38-0 win over Argentina at Newcastle on Saturday night....
The All Blacks thank the crowd after the 38-0 win over Argentina at Newcastle on Saturday night. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES

Three questions for the summer

Will Ian Foster be the happiest man in the land if the Crusaders, under Scott Robertson, struggle next season? Is Foster a bit like Bill English? Good guy, works behind the scenes but people fail to warm to him. Robertson is a Jacinda - likeable and popular, no matter what.

Is there one player in the team who is at the absolute peak in his career? Many are past their best but are still good. Many are still coming up and some are as good as they can be but that ain’t that good.

What was the point of having George Bower in the squad? Cullen Grace? Asafa Aumua? Good for their back pocket but the squad could have easily been trimmed by half a dozen to a dozen players. Isn’t New Zealand Rugby tracking to lose $40 million this year?

 

 

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