Thursday, June 07, 2012

What game plan to expect from the AllBlacks? James Mortimer - (5/06/2012)  

With a powerful spine of Crusaders - sprinkled with some of the finest of our generation, most experienced, prodigies for the future and stars from the five New Zealand franchises - it wouldn’t be unlike coach Steve Hansen, or more to the point, assistant coach Ian Foster, to unleash an all-out attacking All Blacks side.

From the immense power of two powerhouse second five-eighths in Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu; the once-in-a-generation genius of Daniel Carter, backed up by a firing Aaron Cruden; the leadership of Conrad Smith; the multi-talented Israel Dagg and Ben Smith at fullback, while it is likely that big winger Julian Savea will make his test debut.

The prospect of Savea combining with Hosea Gear has an old school aspect that indicates the Irish defence could be on high alert against high speed 100kg plus All Blacks wings.

It is a backline dripping with talent, and could be indicative of a very direct game from the World Champions.

Foster always tried to push the attacking envelope with the Chiefs, and now will be charged with setting alight one of test rugby’s most potent rear divisions.

The selection could be judged from halfback, where Piri Weepu and Aaron Smith bring distinctive styles that could have been made thinking specifically of the opponent’s ahead.

Smith's selection, recognised as one of the snappiest passers from the base New Zealand “hasn’t seen in some time”, could indicate a flat running game from Carter, who would take the line on with either Sonny Bill or Nonu running off his shoulder.

But Weepu’s presence means that the talented Irish halfbacks, traditionally not powerfully built like the old ‘ninth forward’, will be kept honest, and the Blues and World Cup winning veteran may not flick the ball like his younger companion, but at his best will boss the zone around the ruck.

One is wary though of Hansen’s warning that a new coaching regime and changed squad would result in a different All Blacks approach, but that much of the eventual World Cup winning blueprint would still be utilised – to use a horse analogy, the All Blacks coach knows his champion thoroughbred is familiar with winning.

Brian McLean, Foster and Hansen will naturally employ a different overall approach than that utilised when Sir Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Hansen operated over a successful eight-year reign, so while some aspects will remain, there will be individual influences on the style of the 2012 All Blacks.

However while the backline operation will interest, the overall attack will be launched by the forward’s retaining possession, and one expects the All Blacks will continue the successful tight game that has often been a feature of their first half performances – with a constant trait of recent All Blacks vintages being close first halves before a high number of points in the second half.

Wearing an opponent down in the first 40 minutes made it a far more open contest in the second.

If there is to be a more direct style from the All Blacks, there will be further adjustment due to the absence of the colossus Jerome Kaino.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has relished an added role as a ball carrier in recent seasons, but his responsibility will be different as last season’s New Zealand Player of the Year Kaino is not the only departing heavy cavalry the World Champions have lost.

Immense second rower Brad Thorn, whose remarkable resume added Heineken Cup winner recently, will be a loss that no New Zealand lock, no matter how promising, will be able to replace.

Ali Williams enjoys the role as an offensive runner, but there will be a burden on the new blindside and lock to enforce themselves on the game.

It is important to note however that with 88 wins over 103 tests, a significant number of the World Championship team will carry the responsibility to shape the All Blacks game plan, with part of the team’s success being Henry, Smith and Hansen’s work on ensuring that the players took responsibility for what they needed to achieve on the field.

McCaw, Carter and others will play the game as they see it, but with new faces up front and venom out wide, it will be an exciting new era for the All Blacks.

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