Why All Blacks regret Springboks' Super exit
SPOTLIGHT: No longer able to hone their skills against South Africa teams in Super Rugby, New Zealand’s forwards run the risk of ‘going soft’.
All Black forwards coach Jason Ryan admitted the New Zealand pak’s performances at the World Cup – in their 13-27 loss to hosts France in the opening match and the 71-3 rout of a hapless Namibian team – did little to allay the fears that the forwards are a bit off the pace.
He now wants the big men up front to ‘step up’ and make a #BIG statement when they face a tricky Italian team in a crucial Pool A match at Parc Olympique in Lyonnais on Friday.
While New Zealand has won all 15 previous encounters with the Azzurri, Friday’s encounter is not a given – especially in light of the Italian performances at the global showpiece.
They dismissed Namibia 52-8 in their opening match and Uruguay 38-17 last week.
The Italian pack has laid the platform in both those victories and will fancy their chances against a New Zealand pack seen as not of the same standard as past All Black forwards.
“We’ve got to move forward,” Ryan told a media briefing ahead of Friday’s Round Four outing.
“We thought at the camp [in Bordeaux during the bye week] it was really important for us to change gears, and as a forward pack, we’re in a great spot to do that.
“We’ll have no excuses around that.
“It has to be a marker game for us as a pack.
“The boys have prepared well and we’re looking forward to executing what we’ve been working so hard on.
“Bordeaux had some good physical exchanges, and I blew the whistle a couple more times than I usually do. It’s a good sign.
“There’s been some really good quality training sessions, the boys have brought a real intensity, which has been impressive.
“We had a really physical presence at training, we wanted to make sure we had that.
“I think it’s important for this All Black team to change gears.”
However, there is this nagging feeling that New Zealand is beginning to feel the aftereffects of no longer competing against the brutes from South Africa in Super Rugby.
New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams now have the ‘prepare’ themselves for the demands of Test rugby against Australian sides that places less of a premium on forward and set-piece play, while the Fiji and Samoan players also prefer a more ‘expansive’ approach.
“It was always enjoyable playing the Boks in Super Rugby, in my experience, because of those big forward packs,” Ryan said.
“You probably don’t have that sort of demand in Super Rugby as much as you used to.
“What’s important is that you just have to run scenarios in training and you have to make sure that you’re setting guys up to succeed through different situations that you can create.
“Super Rugby is probably not what it used to be, to be fair, but we can’t use that as an excuse.
“We have to get ourselves right in training. We learned that from the Test at Twickenham.”
Ryan used the top-of-the-table clash between World No.1 Ireland and No.2 South Africa this past weekend as an example of how regular competition against the top teams improves skills and physicality.
“I thought it was a great contest,” Ryan said of Italy’s 13-8 win in Paris.
“It was extremely physical and both teams were pretty accurate.
“Both teams played well.
“Ireland showed a lot of resilience. Losing six line-outs didn’t affect them, they just got on with it.
“I saw similar things when they played Scotland [in the Six Nations], losing both of their hookers.
“It was a good contest, but I watched it briefly, with eyes on Italy.”