By Roger Childs
The All Blacks have had two wins, two loses and a draw in the tests over the last two months. This is not the sort of record that the players or supporters are used to. In the games against the Wallabies in Auckland and Sydney the team played with passion, flair and commitment to score plenty of tries and nail decisive victories. The fans would love to see this approach on Saturday in the return match with the Pumas.
The All Blacks will have learnt a lot from the earlier loss to the Argentines, and both players and coaches will know that their reputations are on the line. They need to take the game to their opponents and vary the tactics.
In the first test the All Blacks were far too predictable and telegraphed most of their moves. They also kicked away too much precious possession. There was also the overuse of forward bashing up the middle instead of getting the ball out to the fast men.
Make it a guessing game
Tactically, if you are going to win, you need to keep the opposition guessing. On Saturday the All Blacks need to vary the play in the backs with a combination of quick passing, double rounds, kicking over the top into space and occasionally running two lines. Forwards out in the backs slow the game down and in the clutter the opposition can easily nail the man with the ball. If there are to be high kicks they should be designed to allow players to have an even chance of retrieving the ball.
The front row has been strengthened with Nepo Laulala named at prop in the run-on team. At rucks, mauls and lineouts all eight forwards should be contesting for possession instead of having players standing off. A bad feature of Super Rugby and the tests this year has been two or three defending forwards watching the opposition eight advancing from lineout drives and rolling mauls. Once the opposition gets momentum going forward push-back becomes impossible.
Speed to the loose ball is critical to win possession or create turnovers. The inclusion of Akira Ioane on the flank for Saturday’s match will hopefully make the All Blacks sharper in this vital facet of the game.
Discipline is critical
This aspect is vital to provide the basis for success. It is always tempting to retaliate to off the ball illegal play, but the All Blacks must focus on not giving away stupid penalties, Puma’s goal kicker Nicolás Sánchez has slotted 11 penalties in his last two outings and will happily kick more in the up-coming match, if given the chance. Sam Cane needs to be much more assertive as captain in maintaining discipline and being able to change the game plan should it be necessary.
The All Blacks have the team to win on Saturday and will definitely not want three losses on the trot. There should be plenty of motivation to end the season on a high, but it will take a combination of tactical nous, strict discipline, forward commitment and flair in the backs to pull it off.