After returning to the northern hemisphere for the first time in two years, the All Blacks understand that there is a lot of work to do to get the famous side back to its best.
That was the word from veteran hooker Dane Coles after New Zealand lost 40-25 to France in Paris on Saturday – their second successive defeat during the Autumn Nations Series.
The Covid-19 pandemic made travelling extremely difficult since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and only in the last five weeks has the rugby world seen the resumption of some normalcy in the way of the southern hemisphere sides touring the northern hemisphere.
When the All Blacks last met Ireland, the Kiwis claimed a convincing 46-14 victory in their 2019 Rugby World Cup encounter. However, last weekend Ireland got one back on New Zealand, running out 29-20 victors. The All Blacks’ previous encounter with France was another powerful 49-14 win for the men in black, but the tide turned in Paris on Saturday as Les Bleus claimed a memorable win.
Throughout the three All Black losses in 2021 – over the last two weekends and against South Africa during the Rugby Championship – the side has failed to match their opponents’ physicality.
“I’m not going to lie, that one hurt,” Coles said after the defeat to France. “Physicality is your number one mindset. If you don’t have that, then you can’t get yourself into the game.
“I think with the Irish and the South African boys, we were definitely not where we needed to be. But it just seemed like the speed of the game today – that first 20 they just broke us on the outsides – and I suppose the physicality around our defensive lineout stuff wasn’t where it needed to be either. I definitely put it down to physicality in the first two tests, tonight was just… I can’t get my head around it at the moment.
“For us to be where we want to be, we’ve got to step up in that department. Teams are coming for us. I don’t have the magic words to make it all good, but we have got to sort it out in the next couple of years.”
With only two years remaining until the 2023 Rugby World Cup, other teams have shown to be gaining a handle on the All Blacks style of play and how to combat it.
This being one of several areas of the game that will need to be analysed and discussed at length while slow starts during the northern hemisphere tour will be another aspect on All Blacks’ minds.
“We have to look ourselves in the eye and have those tough conversations,” added Coles. “We can’t shy away from it. Those last two games haven’t been good enough. There’s always an expectation as an All Blacks to perform and put our hand up, and we haven’t done that in the last two weeks.
“I think we’ve blooded some really good players in, but we’ve been put under pressure the last couple of games, which is not good enough. We have to take everything out of it, dissect it and we need to be better going forward.”