RYAN VREDE writes there is cause for deep concern for the All Blacks.
Look beyond the six tries. Those were achieved mostly through moments of individual brilliance or defensive naivety, rather than purposeful, structured and incisive play. The Blacks often operated well behind the advantage line, when they attempted to play through phases their gainline challenge lacked punch, they rarely played for territory and when they did they kicked poorly.
They often resembled a Barbarians team scratched together and given a directive to have fun. It wasn’t fun watching and nothing about this performance against Tonga’s butchers, bakers and candlestick makers should stir optimism about their ability to break the World Cup curse.
Usually a showing as disjointed and rudderless as this first up could be excused and confidence drawn from the fact that their synergy would improve in the coming weeks. But they can’t cling to that hope because it is likely that coach Graham Henry will rotate his 22 in the coming weeks. How will they remedy their shortcomings under these circumstances? And why, in his eighth year at the helm, does it still appear that Henry is unsure of his best run-on side?
The certainty that accompanied this squad’s path to and through the World Cup has been eroded. Australia will hope they progress through the tournament without losing their fulcrums, Quade Cooper and Will Genia, and if they do they are better placed to capture the title.
The Blacks would undoubtedly have struggled against a better organised defensive unit than the one that fronted this evening and their capacity for a telling rebuttal would have been tested. On the evidence of tonight’s performance, I would have serious reservations about their aptitude in this regard.
Having led 29-0 with 30 minutes played, they faded in the second half, while Tonga summoned some resolve (particularly at scrum time) and tactical intelligence. Having made just 27 tackles in the first 40 minutes, their final total of 92 tells a story in itself. Tonga were required to make 50 in the first half and ended with a tally of 85. This had much to do with the impotency of the Blacks’ substitutes, but it would be remiss not to point out the deficiencies in some of the starting group.
Brad Thorn looks every bit a player that has hung on a year too long, Andrew Hore did nothing to dismiss the widely held perception that his ceiling is Super Rugby and Isaia Toeava, Henry’s pet project, was utterly mediocre.
Henry needs to be decisive in his selections going forward. He is certainly blessed with some gifted players, but is burdened by some ordinary ones in equal measure. How he responds, selection-wise, will determine whether this group of players finally capture the one title that eludes them and the one they most desire.
By Ryan Vrede, at Eden Park
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