Why the All Blacks should improve from shaky first Test

Publish Date
Wednesday, 10 July 2024, 2:25PM

By Liam Napier

The hope, the widespread expectation, for Scott Robertson’s All Blacks is that their second test week will inspire significant improvements as they plot the compelling rematch with England at Eden Park.

While there’s no sense New Zealand are clutching at excuses for their jittery one-point escape under the Dunedin roof, there is broad acceptance Robertson’s new coaching crew and the wider team will benefit from another full week to fine-tune a raft of changes yet to be fully embedded.

Chiefs captain Luke Jacobson is among a core of 21 players returning from last year’s World Cup campaign. The All Blacks are, however, coming to grips with Damian McKenzie running the cutter as well as a new back three, loose forward and second-row combinations.

Personnel aside, Jacobson offered an insight into the scale of change Robertson’s era remains in the midst of attempting to usher in. This is, after all, the largest management shift for the All Blacks in two decades.

“Quite a bit,” Jacobson said of how much had changed since the World Cup.

“We’ve got a lot of new coaches and they’ve got different ways they do things, different ways they want to play. There’s new terminology, new strikes. There’s been a lot of adjusting and a lot of learning.

“The first couple of weeks have been full-on, trying to get the new content second-nature. As the weeks go on, it will start to get a little lighter as you don’t need to learn so much, just the new plays for the weekend.

“It’s our job to be clear once we get to the weekend. I think we were clear by the time we got to Saturday. It’s not going to look perfect on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday but the idea is by Saturday, things are instinctive.

“You take a lot of confidence out of the tight, scrappy tests where you come away with a win. The energy from the week is different on the back of a win, as opposed to a loss, but England will be looking at the game harder and ways they can expose us.”

From a New Zealand perspective, the focus has centred on combating England’s defensive line speed. The All Blacks are expected to adopt a much more direct approach through the middle of the park, while using their set-piece platform as a strike weapon, before being seduced by the space on the edges, where their lethal wings lurk.

One area largely glossed over to this point, though, is England’s success at the breakdown, where they snaffled six turnovers to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking intent, particularly in the second-half dogfight.

After coming off the bench to help close out last week’s contest, Jacobson conceded his side were beaten to the punch too many times at the source, with England lock Maro Itoje, midfielder Ollie Lawrence and rookie wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso claiming two turnovers each.

“It was a focus last week as well. Maybe we missed a beat there,” Jacobson said. “They put a lot of pressure on the breakdown. It’s going to be key there this weekend for us to win the race and not give them any daylight. We’ve got to get in nice and early and rule out any sniffs they have there. That’s not just a loosie thing, it’s a whole team focus.

“They’ve got a good loose trio, whoever is on the field. They’re abrasive on defence and they like to get over the ball. They pride themselves on getting turnovers.”

While those areas need addressing, there is a belief within the All Blacks they could’ve, should’ve, had England on the ropes by halftime in Dunedin. A forward pass here, a fumble there and two missed conversions left the door ajar.

England were good enough to storm through and suffocate their hosts but a second week together should, in theory at least, improve the execution of Robertson’s budding blueprint.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission

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