The November test series has been a memorable one for Ireland rugby. Reflecting on a maiden victory over New Zealand, a bruising and narrow loss against the world champions and then another hard fought victory over Australia, it’s fair to say Ireland has ended the year on a dizzying high.
For the visiting All Blacks however, things appear to be less positive, at least in the eyes of the expectant New Zealand media. Following their close fought victory over France at the weekend, media outlets back home were focused on the beloved All Blacks’ problems rather than their victories.
According to Paul Cully of Rugby Heaven, New Zealand, while not in crisis, have seen some worrying flaws exposed during their Northern hemisphere tour this month.
Attributing fatigue as the cause for the narrow 24-19 defeat of France in Paris at the weekend, Cully pointed out that had the All Blacks faced England in Twickenham on Saturday, he suspected they would have lost to home side.
While tiredness is expected at the end of a grueling month on tour, Cully has suggested that New Zealand face something of a shortage of depth when it comes to their second row.
“The Lions could lose their four first-choice locks (for argument’s sake Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Joe Launchbury) and still pick from the Gray brothers of Scotland, Devin Toner, Courtney Lawes, or Donnacha Ryan.
“By comparison if Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick go down in Super Rugby next year there will be some very nervous people in New Zealand.”
While the All Blacks have much in the way of backs firepower to negate any weakness they might have at positions four and five, there is still something there for the coaching staff to concern themselves about in the months ahead.
The All Blacks however, aren’t the double-defending world champions and recognised world leaders for nothing. Cully’s assertions that having “enough to keep the coaches a little bit on edge over the summer is no bad thing” says it all about the psyche of the southern hemisphere side.
Taking much from their two contests with Ireland, plus their clash with France, it is expected that New Zealand will go back the training ground and prepare for the best the home nations have to offer in 2017, when the Lions make the trip south for what will be an epic summer test series.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena