The All Blacks looked mentally and physically exhausted in Paris but still managed to turn on the brilliance when it mattered to win the final match of their international season.
So, what have we learned about the All Blacks in 2016?
5. The House Of Barrett Is The Future
Beauden Barrett had another spellbinding game in Paris, where he combined the mediocre (his chip kicks) with the freakish (his crosskicks and intercept). His season was simply sensational and will be looked back on as one of the greatest in modern All Black history.
Two of his brothers, Scott and Jordie, made the northern tour squad, and while 19-year-old Jordie was kept under wraps as an apprentice, Scott made huge strides up the lock pecking order, usurping Patrick Tuipulotu on the bench for the final game and showed that the Barrett big game opportunism genes didn’t all go to Beauden.
Next season looms as Jordie Barrett’s time to make his move as the 6′ 5″ midfielder/fullback has joined Beauden at the Wellington Hurricanes. Future All Blacks commentary could be:
“Chip kick by Barrett, collected by Barrett, offload to Barrett, pass inside to Barrett and try!”
4. The All Blacks PR Machine Needs A Reboot
While the All Blacks’ performances with rugby ball in hand were generally exemplary, their moves off the ball would probably land them a ‘can do better’ grade. The press has always been eager to jump on any evidence of All Blacks transgression and Aaron Smith’s moment of madness was blown out of all proportion.
Steve Hansen has to be commended with his level-headed handling of the affair and the loyalty he showed to Smith. The influence of their AIG sponsor also seems to loom larger these days, on their shirts and in the fact that the ill-fated game in Chicago was essentially a corporate gig as AIG’s headquarters are located in the windy city.
I guess both AIG and Smith could learn the same lesson from 2016: never think no one’s noticing.
3. The Old Guys Are Missed
It must have been bittersweet for Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith et al. to watch the All Blacks roll through the Rugby Championship not only unbeaten, but with a clean sweep of bonus point victories. Surely there should have been a few ‘if only Richie was heres’ or ‘Dan wouldn’t have done thats?’
However, when the cameras alighted on Dan Carter watching from the stand in Paris, I bet a few All Blacks fans hearts pounded a few nostalgic, heavy beats. Certainly the organisation and power of the Nonu/Smith midfield combination was missed against Ireland and France, and while Barrett has been electric at fly-half, the steady-eyed certainty of Carter is still developing in his gameplay.
In McCaw’s case, it would have been interesting to see how the wily fox might’ve tried to outsmart the Irish loose forward pyros and his leadership mana can never be matched.
2. Generation Next Are Here Already
Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Rieko and Akira Ioane, Jordie Barrett… the All Black production line of prodigious talent is humming along quite nicely. All of the above are under 22 and already seem well-established in first class and even All Black teams.
Hansen’s management of the players is exemplary, with an Obi Wan ability to sense the time and quantity of exposure each player needs to the highest stage in the game.
Hansen has a few positions (blindside flanker, second five-eighth) in which the cupboard ain’t bare, but isn’t exactly teeming with depth and talent, but, as always, we have trust in Steve.
1. Player Fatigue And Injuries Must Be Addressed
Both Jerome Kaino and Dan Carter had year-long sabbaticals away from the extreme physical and mental demands of the southern hemisphere rugby season and it allowed both to extend and reach peaks in their performances late in their careers.
Battling warriors like Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Ben Smith may need similar periods of retreat to enable them to be fresh enough for Japan 2019.
The New Zealand media is clamouring for the All Blacks to re-sign Smith, Cruden and Dagg for the Lions tour next year, but perhaps a more practical, humane and long-term perspective might reap greater rewards.
Three World Cups in a row versus unbeaten against the Lions? I know which one I’d choose.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena