Can the Northern Hemisphere teams make a statement against the ABs?
World champions New Zealand venture north in the coming days on their latest end of year tour and after a rare stop in the United States they will head east looking to extend an enviable record against Europe’s finest.
History tells us that New Zealand rarely suffer from travel sickness and take jet lag in their formidable stride. The All Blacks have suffered just three defeats to Six Nations opposition on the 11 tours they have embarked on since Italy joined the northern hemisphere’s premier championship in 2000.
England edged out the Kiwis in 2002 and again in 2012 – one of only two defeats New Zealand have suffered since lifting the World Cup in 2011 – while France claimed a rare victory in 2000 and also a share of the spoils in 2002.
Others have flirted with victory, notably Wales who suffered an agonising one-point loss in 2004 and Ireland, who also came agonisingly close to an historic win in an enthralling clash in Dublin last year.
As a result the Welsh are still looking for their first win against the All Blacks since that famous day in 1953 while Scotland and Italy are still chasing that elusive first victory.
England, Scotland and Wales all have a perfect opportunity to bloody the nose of the world No.1 side in the coming weeks and not only sow a seed of doubt ahead of the All Blacks’ defence of the World Cup next year but boost their own belief that the sport’s biggest prize is within their grasp.
Play from first whistle to last
The All Blacks’ great escape against Australia in Brisbane earlier this month once again illustrated the need to play for 80 minutes – and more. Malakai Fekitoa’s last minute try and Colin Slade’s excellent conversion stunned the Wallabies and denied them a victory their endeavour arguably deserved.
But this was no one-off. The All Blacks simply never know when they are beaten, just ask Ireland. A first ever victory over New Zealand was seemingly within their grasp at the Aviva Stadium last year only for Ryan Crotty and Aaron Cruden to inflict the cruellest of defeats in a frenetic final few seconds.
Fight fire with fire
Very few sides pack the punch of the All Blacks’ pack and any side hoping to even be within sight of victory come the closing stages needs to front up – but matching the All Blacks in terms of physicality is only part of the equation.
Challengers must win the collision time and time again and secure not only the ball but the priceless momentum that can lay the foundation for victory as South Africa did on their way to their win against the All Blacks in Johannesburg in The Rugby Championship this year, the All Blacks’ only other defeat since Rugby World Cup 2011. At the same time and under immense pressure they must remain disciplined at the breakdown and beyond. Superior industry and precision is just as important without the ball if a spanner is to be thrown into the All Blacks’ machine.
Courage in defence
There is little doubt that it requires a super-human effort to shackle the All Blacks. They scored 18 tries in six Rugby Championship games – five more than their nearest rivals South Africa. They also notched a chilling 57 clean breaks and made over 500m more than their nearest challenger with ball in hand. If that is not enough to worry Europe’s finest defence coaches, then there is the small matter of Rugby Championship leading 120 defenders beaten and 70 offloads.
Roll the dice
One answer to the unavoidable All Blacks onslaught is to give them plenty of food for thought when you have the ball as Australia and South Africa have done in recent weeks and England famously did at Twickenham a couple of years ago. Pedestrian play will lead to predictable results.
The Wallabies have scored a total of five tries in their last two meetings with their TransTasman rivals as a result of a brave blend of intensity, power, pace, ingenuity both up front and in the backs.
The Springboks also enjoyed similar rewards for a bold approach with three tries – and a dominant pack – carrying them to victory in Jo’burg but nothing comes easy against the All Blacks. Steve Hansen’s side conceded just seven tries in six games during their latest successful assault on The Rugby Championship crown.
Be it in defence or attack, successful execution is a key stepping stone to victory against New Zealand.
Such are the All Blacks’ usual high standards, opportunities to punish them for any shortcomings are likely to be rare but at the same time they must be expected to ensure the chance is not wasted. The welcome mat will not be laid out in the All Blacks’ 22 where patience and perseverance will also be required to unlock a miserly defence.
In attack, when presented with a promising field position, or priceless possession, a side must embrace it and convert endless hours of training ground drills into a game-changing body blow. In defence, discipline and structure must be maintained under the greatest pressure.
Players must deliver in every aspect of the game, from running lines to rucks, scrums to scoring opportunities while ensuring cool heads trump the emotion of the occasion.
The return of Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams to the All Blacks’ squad for this latest tour no doubt adds more than a little stardust but they are not just a group of insanely talented individuals; they are the world’s greatest team.
They have confidence in their ability and trust in each other to do the world famous shirt proud. They are also a brutally efficient and cohesive unit – with forwards who are comfortable with ball in hand and backs who are more than willing to get their hands dirty.
Any side hoping to clip their wings must enter the contest with a similar self-belief: that they can and will beat the All Blacks. But with that must come an ability to match the All Blacks’ commitment and deliver both individually and collectively.
Do you think England, Scotland or Wales will conquer the All Blacks this Autumn? How should the northern hemisphere coaches be preparing their squads for the upcoming games?