All Blacks left to rue basic errors
September 13, 2009
All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen reflects on their latest defeat alongside hooker Andrew Hore and captain Richie McCaw © Getty Images
Basic rugby skills are deserting New Zealand's top players according to All Blacks coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith.
That was the damning assessment of Graham Henry's assistants after their side slumped to a 32-29 Tri-Nations defeat at the hands of South Africa at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton that saw the Springboks claim the southern hemisphere crown. It was the All Blacks' fourth Test loss of the year - just the third time that has happened - and brings them closer to matching the misery of 1949's six defeats and the five of 1998.
Looming large for a side who have battled all season for confidence are the resurgent Wallabies, with Tests in Wellington next Saturday and in Tokyo next month before the annual journey to Europe.
A diabolic lineout in the first half was the worst element of an All Blacks performance at Waikato Stadium that only came to life in the final 25 minutes, having allowed the visitors to power 29-12 clear. However, the absence of basic skills have also been blamed for killing off New Zealand's chances of avenging their recent twin defeats in South Africa.
A painful review of the game left Smith convinced he will have to revert to the coaching 101 manual, even though most of his players are hardened at Test level. Yesterday's backline was the most experienced in All Blacks history.
"If you look at the 'Boks compared to us, they're a bit more worldly. A bit more alert to situations," Smith said. "They anticipate the bounce of the ball well, they anticipate body language on the kicks so they drop back if they see you're going to kick.
"We're behind the eight ball there. Our ball carry was poor, we've got in the habit of carrying the ball with the leading arm, which they were able to target. It's a poor technique because it's exposed to the opposition ... and just little things like that are issues we have to coach out of them which is a bit frustrating."
One culprit was midfield back Ma'a Nonu, who bust the line repeatedly but often lost possession in the tackle, exemplifying why the ruthless Springboks have been too good for both New Zealand and Australia this year. The Australasians are left to battle for a distant second place in Wellington and both teams will be relieved not to have a Springboks lineout to combat.
That area has shone as the most crucial element of their third Tri-Nations title. Statistics show they have won about 90 percent of their own throws and more than a third of their opponents', well clear of their rivals in both counts.
A Springboks team who lost key lineout loose forward Juan Smith soon before kickoff last night still cleaned up the All Blacks, winning 15 of their 16 throws while snaffling five of the 12 delivered by struggling New Zealand hooker Andrew Hore.
"It's not miscommunication, it's everybody not switching into the same thought process," commented Hanson.
Hansen maintained the Springboks did not have a psychological hold, pointing to how some of their ball was disrupted by the All Blacks while there was a considerable improvement in the second half.
"I'm in charge of the lineouts so the buck stops there, end of story," he told NZPA. "We've got, clearly, a lot of work to do in the basics of the lineout.
"Whilst we're continually being told we've got a confidence problem, it's not a confidence problem, it's a skill problem. The same issue is happening right through our game. We're dropping passes that are easy passes to catch and we're turning ball over in the tackle."
Springboks captain John Smit did not want to rub it in but he was obviously satisfied that locking great Victor Matfield had again forced the All Blacks into blunders whenever the ball crossed the sideline.
"It helps to take confidence out of the amount of ball you get there, not just from the All Blacks but from all the teams we play against. We're blessed with the kind of personnel we've got," he said.
"When you've got any facet of play that you put a lot of work into, if we didn't get that return it would be frustrating for us. We spend as much time working on the opposition ball as we do on our ball. We are reaping the rewards of our planning."
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