The 2016 Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship Opener over the weekend between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Qantas Australian Wallabies showcased the difference between a good team and a world-class team.
Looking at the result of 42-8 to New Zealand, you may think that Australia are far from a good side but that would be harsh. They have now lost the last four games in a row. Three to England and this one to New Zealand, so it is fair to say they are far from playing their best rugby. They do seem to have lost their edge and maybe the production line of new talent coming through has flattered a bit, but they are far from being a bad team.
New Zealand, on the other hand, seem to be moving up a level. Having won the World Cup and said goodbye to a raft of talent such as Macaw, Carter and a host of other stars they have watched the “understudies” all step up.
Yesterday’s display was in one piece of commentary described as ‘the best passing, running and catching’ possible but I think it is much, much more than this. As a professional national side, you would expect players to have the basic skill sets for the game.
The All Blacks came to yesterday’s party at a different level of speed – not just with the out-and-out acceleration of the players who catch the eye and score the tries, but with the speed of thought.
At every aspect of the game they seem to be looking at the “what’s next” step. This is a concept I first came to consider on a very wet and windy Thursday evening at Swaffham RUFC in a training session run by Mike Penistone (fellow FRN blogger). Mike was on his travels from Australia to do some coaching in the US and he made a stop in the UK to see some friends at Leicester Tigers. Having visited our club before, he agreed to a session.
That session was intense, pressurised and focussed on that aspect of the game – thinking about what happens next. If we win the ball where do we attack? Then what? Then where? Who’s running? Where’s the support coming from? What are the options? And all of that and at pace.
The All Blacks yesterday were relentless. With the ball the options were everywhere, obviously frameworks and patterns were in place in certain phases but the opportunity from the charge down (which was ultimately not a try) was a great example of what I mean. The ball was picked out and there were players in support immediately. No-one died with the ball, forwards and backs picked outstanding lines and seemed to know where the support would be coming from immediately. The distribution skills were great and it would have been one of the best tries you would have seen if not from the original player being offside.
When combining this aspect of their game with their defensive play you can see why they were so much better than Australia on the day.
The All Black’s line speed was outstanding. They gave Australia no time to think whilst in possession of the ball. They contested breakdowns on their terms and when they did they won the contest in the majority of cases.
The superstars might have hung their boots up but New Zealand rugby seems to have nailed two critical aspects. They have a production line of talent pushing the “1st team” that are keen to play at that level rather than happy to pile their trade at club sides or travel abroad to take higher wages AND they are a squad of players focussed on the “what’s next” aspect of the game.
The rest of the world need to step up their game.