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All Blacks march forward to get the right balance of pace and control

Roar Rookie
3rd October, 2019
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Roar Rookie
3rd October, 2019
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Sixty-three points to nil.

It was always going to be a one-sided match – the top team in the world versus one that came to Japan ranked 22nd. But the Canadians came to play and to their credit gave it everything they had for the full 80 minutes.

Going into the match, New Zealand had an epic win over South Africa, 11 days of training and rest since then, and players wanting to prove themselves in this match.

Canada, meanwhile, were coming off the match against Italy that was riddled with dropped passes, missed tackles (43) and lost opportunities, plus had two players injured in the Italy match and now heading back to Canada, and only six days to recover.

These facts did not bode well for the Canadians.

Kingsley Jones, the Canadian coach, spoke before the match: “We don’t want to be too loose, but we also want to go in and have a crack. We’ve got some tries in us so we’re not afraid to have a go, but of course we’ve got to play in the right areas. We believe we’ve got a game that can cause New Zealand some concern.”

The match stats, however, reflect how one-sided the match was:

• All Blacks had 64% of possession and 71% of the territory.
• All Blacks had 177 ball carries compared to Canada’s 86 ball carries.
• All Blacks made 24 line breaks compared to Canada’s three line breaks.
• All Blacks made 910 metres compared to Canada’s 291 metres made.
• All Blacks missed nine tackles compared to Canada missing 46 tackles.

In all, the All Blacks scored nine tries. The first of which was a penalty try, all of the remaining eight were converted by player of the match, Richie Mo’unga.

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All Blacks coach Steve Hansen noted that: “We have come away with some confidence about what we are trying to do, starting to build and grow. We have done a lot of work at training, way harder than we normally would, and we will come away (from tonight) with a lot of confidence. We’ll bank this one.”

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen

(AAP Image/Paul Miller)

After the match the Canadian captain, Tyler Ardron said: “All the Kiwis were pretty impressed with the way we performed. They knew we weren’t going to take a step back and we proved them right. All the way up to the 80th minute we were trying to put bodies on the floor, just coming out and putting them under as much pressure as we could. There were some grunts and a few laughs shared back and forth just with how much pressure we did put them under at times.”

Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga continue to improve their dual roles. Mo’unga played a great all-round game while Barrett didn’t seem to stop running and creating plays. He was the top ball-carrier for the All Blacks with 18 carries – just one more than brother Scott who had an excellent match, including a try.

This was an impressive return to play for Jack Goodhue after injury. He was deliberately only out on the field for the first half but looked strong and comfortable.

Sonny Bill Williams playing an influential role in the match. As coach Hansen noted: “He played really well. He had a good kicking game and he was effective (and) he’s injury free.”

An excellent match too for Brad Weber, who came on in the second half, scoring two tries and showing pace and control that saw the All Blacks run in five tries in the first 16 minutes of the half. There will be talk of him being the preferred number two halfback if this form continues.

A Rugby World Cup record was made with the Barrett brothers each scoring a try. Jordie Barrett said afterwards: “We’re having a ball. It’s ten years ago or whatever when we used to play in the backyard and talk about going to the World Cup and used to heckle each other about having a kick to win the World Cup, so it’s just cool to be here and be able to play together. It’s pretty cool. It was a lot of fun out there tonight.”

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His brother Beauden commented: “We’re very happy and proud and it’s just great to be out there at one time and share some pretty special moments together.”

Beauden Barrett

(Phil Walter/Getty Images)

It is rare these days to see a prop play the full 80 minutes, but tonight’s match saw New Zealand’s Atu Moli do just that. The coaches and Atu were super pleased. Moli said afterwards, “The full 80, wow. I think the last time I played 80 was when I was in high school… They’ve put so much effort into me with my fitness and nutrition, it was just awesome to go out there and put a performance in and show them my worth. It was good to get back to playing rugby again.”

Yes, there were plenty of dropped passes tonight, but it was raining. Even though the stadium was covered, there was an extremely high level of humidity. On top of this, the All Blacks played at an exceptional pace – and some of them admitted afterwards that maybe it had been too fast. Post-game, players noted how slippery the conditions were.

On the upside, however, is the fact that some exceptional skills were shown by both teams in the way they handled the ball. It raises an interesting question, not just for the All Blacks but for the other teams here in Japan: how do you effectively balance pace with control, especially with a slippery ball? That, in a nutshell, was what tonight’s game was about.

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The All Blacks played with clinical pace, testing the limit of how fast they could play while still maintaining control. And in defence, there were very few opportunities where the Canadian team was able to break through. In fact, if the All Blacks go on to win the Webb Ellis Trophy, it will be due to their defensive qualities as much as it will be the mental and physical speed at which they play the game.

Hansen targeted areas for improvement post-game, and I’ve yet to hear a coach say their team played the perfect match and there is nothing to improve on.

But the New Zealand team appears to be moving in the right direction. A number of players are playing their finest rugby and others continue to excel and improve. The team is relatively injury-free and its discipline in these first two RWC matches has been impressive. Lock Brodie Retallick is still to come back into the team, and he will probably get some game time in the upcoming match against Namibia on October 6.

Brodie Retallick of the All Blacks runs away to score a try.

(Photo: Matt King/Getty Images)

So the All Blacks still have plenty to work on and will continue to improve on new plays, some of which they experimented with last night. If there is a looming concern at all at this point, it is complacency. The players can’t afford to get ahead of themselves.

They will have a similar match against Namibia and then a tougher challenge on October 12 against Italy. But come the quarter-finals and onwards, if there is any sense of complacency or entitlement, the opposition will be ruthless and the All Blacks will be quickly humbled out of the tournament.

For their part, the Canadians gave it everything, but it simply wasn’t enough. There is talent and commitment in the team and a desire from Rugby Canada to improve upon its world ranking.

The newly formed North American professional rugby competition, Major League Rugby (MLR), provides a path for Canadian rugby players to now play more rugby and at a higher level without having to look for professional opportunities overseas.

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This is huge for the game in North America. And Canada has one of the professional teams in the MLR: the Toronto Arrows. There is lots of optimism. But it is clear, as tonight’s match demonstrated, that teams like Canada need the experience and intensity of playing regularly against tier-one teams. And tonight’s match will prove invaluable to the Canadians who now face South Africa in just six days time.

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The Canadian coach Kingsley Jones summarised the match: “The basic facts are the speed, the accuracy and the power that the All Blacks could generate. Something you admire. Some of their executions are incredible. They’re a fantastic team and it’s a great a test for our players. They were outstanding.”

When asked about the All Blacks chances of winning the tournament, Canadian captain Tyler Ardron, said: “I think they’re as good as ever. I give them every shot to win this tournament. They were impressive. I think they’re still trying to find a few combinations and work some things out but, player for player, they’re going to be pretty hard to beat.”

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In a wonderful gesture at the end of the match, and after Steve Hansen came onto the field and went around shaking the hands of the Canadians, some of the players exchanged jerseys and both teams went across the pitch and bowed to the spectators together. And Tyler Ardron remained on the field for a few minutes chatting to his Waikato Chiefs team-mates Retallick, Sam Cane, and Leinert Brown.