Defining the difference between the All Blacks and the rest

Sam Taulelei Roar Guru

By Sam Taulelei, Sam Taulelei is a Roar Guru


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    The All Blacks - head and shoulders above the rest. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

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    Ewen McKenzie made an insightful comment this week, responding to questions about Will Skelton’s selection for the Wallabies final test against France.

    “Everyone obviously talks about his size, but I have been more impressed with his skill touches, the ability to know when to take the line on, when to pass and create opportunities for others,” McKenzie said of Skelton.

    “I have said for a few years now that the thing that defines the All Blacks now is the forwards’ contribution to passing in the game.

    “At the All Blacks, their forwards may make up to 25 per cent of passes in a game. Most other countries are around the 12 per cent mark.”

    Closer viewing of the second Test between England and New Zealand provides ample demonstration of that point of difference separating the All Blacks from the rest, plus a genuine effort and desire by England to emulate their rivals.

    So much more is expected of the All Blacks’ tight five now. They need strength, flexibility, technique and power to fulfil their core duties, plus aerobic fitness and speed to get to breakdowns and dexterity to catch and pass under pressure.

    The buildup to the All Blacks’ second try showcases the range of skills from the forwards.

    From the New Zealand restart, England kicked deep and Julian Savea attacked but was unable to regather the ball from his chip kick. England counterattacked and Dane Coles spot-tackled Geoff Parling and then immediately got up and drove Joe Launchbury back in another strong tackle.

    A few phases later a great clean out on Dylan Hartley by Coles set up the blindside break from Aaron Smith into the England 22.

    With New Zealand on attack, England effected a turnover but Brodie Retallick won the ball back, launching another back line attack through the hands of five jerseys.

    Then from the ensuing ruck, there was a beautiful piece of skill from Owen Franks, who caught and passed in one motion to Sam Whitelock. From the next ruck, the ball was moved through the hands ending in a lovely one-handed round-the-corner pass from Jerome Kaino to an unmarked Savea.

    The forwards certainly didn’t act alone in setting up the try, but the majority of significant moments in the buildup definitely came from them.

    When you watch the All Blacks play, you notice how frequently the numbers three, four and five receive the ball as first and second receiver from rucks, and how well they catch and pass under pressure on the advantage line.

    Their patterns of play often requires their hooker, number eight and blindside flanker to keep their width on the edges of the field to link or act as wings.

    It’s a game plan that requires forwards to be comfortable on the ball and just as adept at manipulating an overlap in confined space as the backs. It should be noted that of all the handling errors the All Blacks have committed so far this series, it is not their tight five who are guilty.

    England employed their tight five more conventionally as midfield and decoy runners, although hooker Rob Webber can be found roaming on the wings using his speed and handling skills to good effect. However, rarely will you find Launchbury, Parling and David Wilson acting as first or second receiver on attack.

    Despite these structural differences, England has evolved their game beyond the stereotypes held of them in the southern hemisphere. They attack with width, inventiveness and want to play at pace, but they’re unused to playing at the sustained pace of the All Blacks.

    The ball was in play for long passages last week, with both teams adopting a positive attitude to attack. But the stresses of continuous running on the England forwards started to affect their skills and support lines.

    The timestamps from these consecutive passages of play late in the first half and the duration the ball was in play highlights how far out of their comfort zone some of these English players were pushed on Saturday.

    31m 23s – 33m 29s
    34m 41s – 36m 18s
    37m 38s – 39m 50s (Ben Smith tackle on Tuilagi)

    And again in the second half:

    40m 55s – 43m (first try scored by New Zealand)
    47m 22s – 49m 6s (second try scored by New Zealand)
    50m 53s – 51m 56s
    52m 56s – 53m 40s
    55m 37s – 56m 34s
    57m 05s – 58m (Farrell yellow card, Beauden Barrett penalty)
    63m 20s – 64m (Third try scored by New Zealand)

    Two aspects were key to the All Blacks retaining possession and forcing the pace in the second half. They were winning the restarts giving England no opportunity to gain easy metres and apply pressure, and they were finding and creating holes in their defensive line with greater ease.

    The first Test was much closer than the margin suggests and last week’s defeat is larger than the one point difference. But the manner in which the All Blacks forwards increased their tempo, their support play and skill execution under pressure and fatigue was a salutary lesson for England and the rest of their opposition.

    But if England learn from it, then this tour will have been invaluable for them in realising their desire to overtake the All Blacks as the number one team and win next year’s World Cup.

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    The Crowd Says (152)

    • Roar Guru

      June 20th 2014 @ 5:40am
      biltongbek said | June 20th 2014 @ 5:40am | ! Report

      Great article Sam, the AB forwards have always struck me as fitter and more capable with ball in hand than the rest. No doubt about that.

      • June 20th 2014 @ 12:32pm
        woodart said | June 20th 2014 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

        a big part of this is we all want to play with the ball here, where-as a lot of forwards from other countries seem to be happy down in the trench’s. go back to the days of pinetree, its nothing new.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 12:58pm
          Brando Connor said | June 20th 2014 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

          As the twig is bent so the tree grows. When I was a kid the coaches drilled into us forwards that we weren’t allowed to pass the ball – thats what backs do. I was a bit disappointed but I wanted to play so I followed the coaches instructions. Seems stupid now looking back.

          • Roar Guru

            June 21st 2014 @ 7:42am
            sixo_clock said | June 21st 2014 @ 7:42am | ! Report

            Very good point Brando. One of New Zealand’s greatest strengths has been the quality of coaching all the way down the ranks. Start them in good habits and they can only build their own game around that. This is also true for many other Unions but in Oz with all our different codes and loyalties it is harder. Many times we watch our Wallabies go out and try to win playing some hybrid style, especially early in a campaign, and it fails. Basics folks, a solid application of the fundamentals (fitness, skills, techniques) puts any team in a position to win games.

            • June 21st 2014 @ 4:54pm
              Albatross said | June 21st 2014 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

              If you execute the basics extremely well, from the stands it appears that you’re world class.

            • June 22nd 2014 @ 10:26am
              bennalong said | June 22nd 2014 @ 10:26am | ! Report

              I had one really good coach in all my years of rugby, and I came on exponentially that season.

              Most Oz coaches were dads or teachers with no particular coaching knowledge. Good blokes, but lacking that single mindedness about rugby that defines New Zealand.

              It is time that knockers from across the duch (they’re like a virus on this site) realised that they are bigger than us in rugby and probably always will be with our population growth of soccer playing immigrants.

              You may be our little brother but in rugby you’re often boastful bullies.

    • June 20th 2014 @ 6:36am
      Rexthegod said | June 20th 2014 @ 6:36am | ! Report

      Yes indeed Sam, very thorough and informed. But there is a difference in the ability of the AB 4 and 5 – they can run. Sprint if they get the chance. The WBs second row are used strictly as gainline bargers. And the front rowers are used as short gain, straight ahead guys. Polota-Nau has real pace but you seldom see him standing wide. Similarly, with the Boks, the Beast has pace but it’s not taken much advantage of. And last week’s 4 and 5, Matfield and Botha, weren’t enlisted to carry the ball. It’s no wonder that you guys are number one when you have so many offensive threats.

      I believe Lancaster said that his team was used to playing at Brit/European speed while the ABs play at S15 speed.

      • June 20th 2014 @ 7:37am
        ChrisT said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:37am | ! Report

        Where did Lancaster say that Rex?

        • June 20th 2014 @ 12:26pm
          hoqni said | June 20th 2014 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

          more like PSA?

      • June 20th 2014 @ 10:49am
        The Other Steve said | June 20th 2014 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        I would also point out Dane Coles who’s major selling point seems to be his speed rather than his scrummaging.

        • June 21st 2014 @ 7:47am
          Lassitude said | June 21st 2014 @ 7:47am | ! Report

          He had a better game on saturday (his best IMO) but that necessary tight forward bit is still a way off top class – I suspect it’ll be shown up at some stage this year.

      • Roar Guru

        June 20th 2014 @ 12:53pm
        AdamS said | June 20th 2014 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

        The French coach said that about the Wobblies a few days ago.

    • June 20th 2014 @ 6:48am
      JamestheElder said | June 20th 2014 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      “The defeat which sticks in the memory is that 0–44 thrashing from the South Africans at Murrayfield on 24 November 1951. They were just awesome. It was like sevens played by fifteen men. I had never seen anything quite like them. I had never seen a prop forward run as fast as Chris Koch, had never seen as huge a man as ‘Okey’ Geffin kick goals…
      “At Murrayfield the massive Geffin thumped over seven goals in nine attempts from all over the pitch, with the old fashioned style of having the ball sloping towards the goal and with a dead run up.”[Bill McLaren]

      Okey was an old, long time friend who, despite his size and strength, could be quite nimble and had good handling skills. He learnt his rugby as a POW from the great Bill Payne.

      This is the style of rugby the Boks played up to their first series defeat against the ABs in 1956. From then on the concrete of 10 man rugby was poured into their souls and they gradually acquired the culture of ‘biff, bash and boot’ and changed from the admired smiling giants into players who seemed intent on hurting people rather than playing rugby. Their defensive mind set was born.

      The law changes have made it easier to play this type of rugby and to score more easily.

      The ABs have always played that style so it won’t be easy to catch up. The key is to pick big, strong, quick forwards who have handling skills and can create space and link with their backs. Like the NFL, speed off the mark for about 40 metres is critical.

      Meyer seems to be trying to get back to this type of structure as did Carel du Plessis and Nick Mallet.

      Better to make friends by winning the match than yet more enemies by winning the fight.

      • June 20th 2014 @ 7:39am
        ChrisT said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:39am | ! Report

        ” Better to make friends by winning the match than yet more enemies by winning the fight. ”


        • Roar Guru

          June 20th 2014 @ 7:51am
          Diggercane said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:51am | ! Report

          + 1 Enjoyed that too James.

      • June 20th 2014 @ 8:51am
        Old Bugger said | June 20th 2014 @ 8:51am | ! Report


        Thanks for the read and I agree, win the match rather than the fight.

        But, one of the games that holds a special spot in my diminishing memory banks is the 3rd test, Boks v ABs, 1965 Boks tour to NZ – I think it was at the old Carisbrook ground (aah, old timers). The AB’s had the game by the throat – 16-0 lead, muddy & wet ground, 2 test already in the bag and going for the Boks jugular. That is, until a couple of Bok players for some reason, decided enough is enough. Thse players were John Gainsford, Lofty Nel and Tiny Naude. I like the rest of the country were thinking yep – we go 3-0 with the last test in Auckland. The Boks had other ideas, they worked and the game ends 19-16 win to the Boks after a last minute Naude penalty….against all odds. But I’m sure there are many other games (the 4th test in Auck comes to mind but that’s another story).

        • June 20th 2014 @ 3:33pm
          Jeff said | June 20th 2014 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

          It was at Lancaster Park in Christchurch.

      • Roar Guru

        June 20th 2014 @ 11:27am
        biltongbek said | June 20th 2014 @ 11:27am | ! Report

        Great comment James, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

      • June 20th 2014 @ 1:11pm
        Hertryk said | June 20th 2014 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

        I remember a 49-0 drumming in Brisbane! Not that long ago Wallabies just left the Boks in their wake!

      • June 20th 2014 @ 6:33pm
        Sam Taulelei said | June 20th 2014 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

        Loved reading that James, thanks for sharing. I remember reading about Geffins goalkicking during the 1949 series whitewash. It was a favourite question of mine to stump my friends whenever we tested our rugby knowledge. Who kicked 5 penalty goals in a single test match against the All Blacks that wasnt a back.

        • June 22nd 2014 @ 10:32am
          bennalong said | June 22nd 2014 @ 10:32am | ! Report

          Loved your piece James and the responses it evoked.

          Pity the younger contributors to this sight seem to have failed to get the idea of respect for the enemy that was current years ago.

    • June 20th 2014 @ 7:15am
      Johnno said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:15am | ! Report

      The refs love the AB’S and hate the Boks! And like the wallabies unless there playing the AB’S. Home Unions get treated well too unless v the AB’S.

      • June 20th 2014 @ 7:25am
        ben said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:25am | ! Report

        What!! Read the article…then write your one on that theme see who bothers reading it.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 7:36am
          Johnno said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:36am | ! Report

          Well ben you write something about the AB’S and give an opinion, then I might listen to you. You must be a kiwi touched a raw nerve.

          • June 20th 2014 @ 7:53am
            moaman said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:53am | ! Report

            Johnno-I see you have ditched your Ghost-Writer and have reverted to churning out your own material again. Pity.I was enjoying the respite.

          • June 20th 2014 @ 8:35am
            snail said | June 20th 2014 @ 8:35am | ! Report

            And you must be ozzie or boker?

          • June 20th 2014 @ 8:44am
            Lord Beldisloe said | June 20th 2014 @ 8:44am | ! Report

            Johnno i find it hard to believe the phenomenal run of the All Black myself sometimes but at the end of the day they are just simply better than the rest mate. You don’t win 32 from 33 matches by fluke, AB’s getting better and better and that world record test run looks all but a done deal. how do you like the sound of that Johnno? 17, 18, 19 test wins in a row should make you happy?

            • June 20th 2014 @ 10:22am
              Johnno said | June 20th 2014 @ 10:22am | ! Report

              Don’t like it Lord Bleidsloe, not happy.

              • June 20th 2014 @ 11:34am
                wazza perth nz ex pat said | June 20th 2014 @ 11:34am | ! Report

                Tough bikkies !!

              • June 20th 2014 @ 12:34pm
                woodart said | June 20th 2014 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

                build a bridge

              • June 20th 2014 @ 3:04pm
                Lord Beldisloe said | June 20th 2014 @ 3:04pm | ! Report


              • June 20th 2014 @ 3:32pm
                Garth said | June 20th 2014 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

                Take some concrete pills.

          • June 20th 2014 @ 9:09am
            Taniwha said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:09am | ! Report

            Is that you Piet? Seems to be a certain similarity in the mindsets

      • June 20th 2014 @ 7:30am
        JamestheElder said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:30am | ! Report

        The Boks may lose games because of Refs mistakes, just like everyone else, but their problems are not related to biased refs but to the way they play the game. Less focus on hurting others or showing how tough you can be and more on finding the gaps and attacking the try line will be a great help. Less Bakkies, more Matfield attitudes.
        I believe they are finally on the right track.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 9:40am
          Johnno said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:40am | ! Report

          Fine line between bias and refs mistakes. Just ask the Boks about Bryce.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 9:52am
          Rollaway7 said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:52am | ! Report

          More Strauss less Bishmark? 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      June 20th 2014 @ 7:50am
      Diggercane said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      Wonderful write up Sam, really good thank you.

      • June 20th 2014 @ 6:35pm
        Sam Taulelei said | June 20th 2014 @ 6:35pm | ! Report

        Thanks Digger, appreciate your efforts during the live blogs. Considering I’m a WCOB you’re not bad for a dooley lol.

        • Roar Guru

          June 20th 2014 @ 6:44pm
          Diggercane said | June 20th 2014 @ 6:44pm | ! Report

          Oh well, we can’t all be perfect 😉

    • June 20th 2014 @ 8:28am
      Batdown said | June 20th 2014 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      A well constructed and thoughtful piece Sam. Excellent analysis!