All Blacks content playing 'rope-a-dope'
November 20, 2013
The majority of the All Blacks' 48 tries this year have come through rapid strikes © Getty Images
The All Blacks have turned winning without the ball into an art form, with statistics showing that New Zealand have kicked more and run less than their opponents in recording 13 wins from as many Tests this seasons.
Tight wins over France and England in November have further highlighted how the world champions are regularly outpointed in possession and territory stakes, and how they are often forced to make considerably more tackles than their rivals, prompting assistant coach Ian Foster to point to the most important numbers on a rugby field.
"Some stats are important and some aren't," Foster said. "What's most important is how you use the possession that you get. We've generally used our possession pretty well."
The majority of the All Blacks' 48 tries this year have come through rapid strikes, either from long range or converting territory quickly into points. They have meanwhile conceded only 16 tries, often after opponents have hammered away for long periods.
"There are a lot of teams who play us a certain way, who just want to hold onto the ball for lengths of time," Foster said. "We've just got to stand our ground and make sure that we're strong."
Foster isn't always comfortable with the discrepancy in possession, noting that England's overwhelming advantage in that department during New Zealand's 30-22 win at Twickenham last weekend wasn't in the script. The hosts enjoyed 62% of possession and made just 87 tackles compared with the tourists' 152.
"We made too many tackles in that game, and that was because of our own skill deficiency," Foster said. "We handed the ball over at bad times and then we'd have to defend for another five minutes."
Foster said the All Blacks had kicked more this year, as part of a deliberately tweaked tactical approach, but they weren't necessarily swayed by the trend in Super Rugby that saw the teams who kicked and defended most this year - the Chiefs and Brumbies - meet in the final.
Despite having lost all four of their 2014 Six Nations games, the future of Italian rugby is bright with the team showing a new youthful core, argues Enrico Borra
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'