Monday, November 30, 2009

Francelet the All Blacks have their way

OPINION: As magnificent as the Marseille test was, don't go expecting internationals like this every weekend - the pragmatists simply won't allow it.

While we celebrate the superb rugby the All Blacks played it should be remembered they were helped by the positive approach of France.

For the first time this season they found a side that was willing to run the ball back at them more often than it was kicked their way.

With the All Blacks forwards in such commanding form at the breakdowns that was commendable but suicidal from the French.

It's what the Springboks never tried to do. It's why the Springboks record against New Zealand is 3-0 this year.

What should be remembered is that under these rules it takes two to tango. The All Blacks have never wavered from their belief that rugby should be a running game. They have still tried to go down that avenue while everyone around them has taken to kicking the ball. The All Blacks have used a more measured approach with their boots, hopeful that when the moments were right, ball-in-hand rugby could still win.

The French, renowned for their flair, entered the spirit of the occasion and as a consequence the field opened up.

Rather than having a defensive line coming at them under a high ball, the All Blacks found the French coming at them in an attacking formation.

The New Zealanders, as they have throughout this tour, tackled like demons and fed off their ability to snaffle turnovers.

They then got into position to strike through good ball from their set pieces and even got the counter-attack try they were longing for in places like Bloemfontein and Durban.

Here was a test where just about everything clicked for the All Blacks. Those mid-season handling blues against the Springboks were a distant memory as passes stuck, some made from seemingly impossible positions.

But that's the difference. The French aren't the Springboks. They don't have the ability to play the relentless defence of the Boks nor do they have the desire to play the methodical but worryingly effective game of the South Africans.

And now that is the game that the All Blacks will have to try to break down.

Was what we witnessed at Marseille the new dawn rugby so dearly needs or a false dawn against a month of forgettable internationals up north on the back of a turgid season down south?

Sadly I would suggest the latter, purely because when the stakes get higher and higher heading towards the next World Cup, most teams won't revert from a win-at-all costs approach.

While the Springboks will be disappointed with the end to their year they will also be content that they did the business when it mattered most - in a wonderful series with the British & Irish Lions and in almost completely dominating the Tri-Nations.

Has their kick and chase game been overtaken on the back of one scintillating display from the All Blacks? Not likely.

The Boks will continue to play to their strengths and most teams will probably follow them because it's the easier option.

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