Mind Games: All Blacks are the team to beat

2014-12-08 10:00

And so another rugby year ends and still the All Blacks are the team to beat.

While the Springboks stumbled twice on their end-of-year tour, the All Blacks recovered from their defeat against the Boks to score four successive wins over the USA Eagles, England, Scotland and Wales.

Like the Boks, they got into a spot of bother against Wales but managed to find that extra gear, as they usually do, at the end to kick on to a win.

They struggled against England in the first half, but ruthlessly shut out the Poms in the second and had the gumption to pick an experimental side against a rejuvenated Scotland and still win.

Thus the All Blacks continue to set the benchmark before the curtain rises on the World Cup.

The Springboks are still second and are the one side able to cause a blip on an incredible run by the All Blacks since they won the Webb Ellis Cup in 2011.

Ireland, under Kiwi Joe Schmidt, is now ranked third.

There has been much talk that the New Zealanders are slipping; that some of their players are getting on and they have been lucky to escape possible defeats.

British rugby writers included surprisingly few All Blacks in their 2014 World XV compilations and questioned whether they could be as effective in knockout rugby.

Questions were raised as to the ability of the All Blacks forwards to dominate matches, and the fact that Richie McCaw’s men frequently relied on so much kicking to be able to prey on mistakes by their opponents.

The accusation of how frequently the All Blacks kick the ball was also highlighted from within the Springbok camp. But the truth is, whatever they were doing still made them better than the rest.

My contention is that the difference lies in the greater ball skills of the Kiwis, their unwavering mind-set to run in support, as well as a keener ability to outwit opponents.

Sure, they have been kicking more, but the reason is that with all teams applying rush defence from a slightly offside starting position, there’s great benefit to be had from “the ball in behind”.

And when it comes to moving the ball, either in set plays or when turnover opportunities arise, the All Blacks reign supreme.

As for the Springboks, it might have been the effect of the fatigue due to an overly long season, wet fields and frozen fingers, but the biggest disappointment of the recent tour was how ponderous our back play was.

Our players have always struggled in cold conditions (it’s something that will have to be worked on before the World Cup in England), but there was an absence of well thought out moves to outmanoeuvre opponents.

Not for the first time, it raises the question – is it not time the SA Rugby Union institutes a national symposium to revive creative back play as an integral part of our rugby?

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