Wednesday, November 24, 2010

All signs point to another grand slam triumph
TOBY ROBSON - Fairfax Media

OPINION: Three down, one to go, but Wales are looking more like a damp squib than a tour finale as the All Blacks head down the home stretch.
As the All Blacks turned their blowtorch attack on Ireland with a 38-18 win in Dublin, Warren Gatland's woeful Welshmen could manage only a 16-16 draw against Fiji in Cardiff.

In reality the grand slam schedule would have held more appeal if it had been played in reverse order with a now match-hardened England lying in wait at Twickenham.
But that's for another day.

The question right now is why the All Blacks are so dominant in Europe?
They have lost just one test in the northern hemisphere during Graham Henry's reign and it was not a tour match, but the 2007 World Cup quarterfinal.

On end-of-year tours, Henry is 23 tests, 23 wins since 2004.
South Africa cannot do it – they lost to Scotland yesterday, just a week after the All Blacks made the Scots look like a second division club side. Nor can Australia, demolished a week earlier by England, then humiliated by Munster midweek.

What sets the All Blacks apart? Against Ireland they scored two tries in three minutes, a missed tackle on Jerome Kaino saw Kieran Read score, then a poor chase gave Cory Jane time to spark a counter-attack.
A 19-13 lead became 33-13 in the blink of an eye. Ireland did not play badly. They defended like their lives depended on it and ran like the wind.

But captain Richie McCaw often talks about the importance of taking opportunities to score and teams in the north tend to present them in the form of a fumble, a poor pass, a miskick or a bad option.

Nobody counters like the All Blacks and it is in skill and vision where they have their greatest advantage over the four home unions. In first-five Dan Carter the All Blacks have a brilliant player, but it is across the board that the New Zealand team has an ability to see space.
When the numbers don't match the All Blacks pounce. When a kick is slightly inaccurate or a chase is weak, they make teams pay by moving the ball.

Australia displayed the same traits when they won in Hong Kong, but England, Scotland and to a lesser extent Ireland cannot move the ball when their space and time is cut down.
It is difficult to believe these nations are not physically conditioned in a similar way to the All Blacks.

Physically there may be no northern equivalents to Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear or Ma'a Nonu but it is their skill, not their size, that troubles their opposites.

The backs clean rucks with the same efficiency as the forwards, and the forwards can throw passes off either side like the backs. Unlike the South Africans, the All Blacks often offload in the tackle and, unlike Australia, the pack are happy to indulge in an arm-wrestle if the weather or pitch conditions dictate.

It is a mix that takes European sides well out of their comfort zone. They seem unsure whether to copy the All Blacks, or try to impose their own style of play.
Either way it is hard to see Wales doing either in a week's time when Henry will probably grab another grand slam.

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