Expert Witness: Lewis Moody on New Zealand’s rapid fall from grace and how he can only see a comprehensive South Africa win

James While

As crisis turns into desperation for New Zealand as they face South Africa at Ellis Park, Lewis Moody joins James While to discuss the fixes needed if the once mighty All Blacks are to turn around one of the worst times in their rugby history.

Continuity

“Looking back at last weekend and previously, to the Irish series, there’s no doubt New Zealand are on the ropes and have been well and truly beaten. As I understand it, Ian Foster, Sam Cane and the leadership team have been given this series to sort out the future and to work out what’s going wrong, but the question you have to ask is would it be better to cut your losses now and to make the move mid-competition?

“Rightly or wrongly, the All Black culture has always been to have a succession plan, promoting from within and since Graham Henry’s tenure, each successive appointment has seen the assistant coach promoted to head coach once the former’s tenure is complete.

“When you’ve had the success and also when you have the culture that the All Blacks have, why wouldn’t you continue in that vein? Or is there a question that keeping it in camp prevents new ideas and trends seeping in?

New Zealand‘s issues are also compounded by the retirement of some all-time greats of the game. Replacing Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock and others simply doesn’t happen overnight. These guys are some of the icons of the sport – once in a lifetime level players, and filling shoes like that is hard, even for a rugby barmy nation like New Zealand.

“Another, rather self-inflicted issue is their decision to play Super Rugby in a closed Oceanic environment. Losing the South African clubs from that tournament has removed so much challenge and excellence from the competition, taking it from being almost compelling watching to something that many now don’t bother with outside of Australia and New Zealand. The contrasting styles the South African clubs brought made for a real pot-pourri of rugby – testing their opponents in different and often tighter ways.

“The simple fact is that other tournaments have leap-frogged it in style, with the Premiership now the standard bearer of excellence of attacking rugby, the Top 14 not so far behind and even the URC starting to challenge the norm. To remove the South African clubs is a self-inflicted blow of staggering, and dare I say arrogant, proportions and that decision is now coming home to roost in terms of the affect it’s having on the standard of Test candidates coming through New Zealand’s ranks,” Moody explained ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash.

Bubble

He continued: “New Zealand are playing in a bubble and they need to challenge that. However, to do that effectively they need to recapture external influence. Einstein once said, ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’ and that holds true here, and that need for external input cannot be understated.

“When the All Blacks are at their very best, they fuse pragmatism and intellect with their undoubted individual skills. Back in the times I played against them, they were brilliant at doing things like owning territory but owning in a place that allowed their backs to attack. Simply put they’d work scrums and rucks right down the middle of the park, split their runners and attack with options down both sides of the pitch.

“I don’t see that pragmatism right now – I see a side that tries to play one-out individualism from deep positions against vastly superior defences than those found in the current iteration of Super Rugby, which, in the modern turnover era, is simply not going to beat the best sides. Little things, like the diminished affect Aaron Smith’s kicking game is having or the inability to manage defensive recycling are costing them dearly – and whilst some of this is this is down to coaching, a lot of it is down to not being challenged in their non-Test competitions.”

Forward look

“On Saturday, New Zealand have made a number of changes – they’ve solidified their front-row but in doing that, they’ve lost the excellence of George Bower around the park. Akira Ioane is replaced by Shannon Frizell, which might step up the defence but Ioane was one of the All Blacks’ better carries in recent Tests. The biggest change, however, is at fly half, where Beauden Barrett (possibly not 100% fit after his horrendous head knock last week) has been replaced by Richie Mo’unga.

“Mo’unga has a far better kicking game than that of Barrett – the All Blacks need exit strategy and field position to unleash their attacking skills and Richie’s boot will surely aid them do that, but any kicking strategy also needs great chasing and support, and it’ll be down to the back three to provide that – and for all their one-out gifts, tramline kick chase isn’t the superpower of their games. Structures are there to create space and to allow effective positions to attack and New Zealand will need to be patient.

“A word about South Africa at this point. Their management of defence, breakdown and rucks is on another level to almost any other side in the world right now. Last week, on many occasions we saw rucks where only two or three Springboks competed against four or five All Blacks. On simple maths, if New Zealand have the ball, use three players to support the carrier against two ruck defenders, on the next movement it’s now 13 defenders v 11 attackers. By the third or fourth phase, even allowing for good self recycle times, the odds on retaining the ball into ruck contact are very slim – and the only options are to try carry through contact or kick,” Moody noted.

“The Springboks are in the happy position of tweaking their side. Bongi Mbonambi is injured this week and their depth at hooker is so strong that we see a like for like player in Joseph Dweba coming into the side. I like what I’ve seen of Dweba – a super abrasive carrier who powers into contact and often through it with great leg drive. Naturally, he’s a powerful scrummager but his lineouts aren’t yet at the level of Bongi, so I’ll be interested to see how he goes. Jesse Kriel comes onto the wing and he’ll add another level of kick chase and aerial excellence to the Bok backline, although it’s a shame Kurt-Lee Arendse is suspended, as he looks such a fine prospect.

“And we shouldn’t overlook the recall of Duane Vermeulen at eighth man; he is the guy that has set the standards in the number eight shirt since the retirement of Kieran Read – a clamp over the ball, a brilliant runner and a superb set-piece man. Whilst the focus will be on him, we shouldn’t overlook the options that his selection gives South Africa off the bench – their back five riches are now so impressive with Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith and Jasper Wiese trotting on after 50 minutes that South Africa are in danger of having a Nuclear Bomb Squad over and above their conventional weapons of the last few years!” chuckled Moody.

“In the final analysis, I cannot see this game going any way other than with the home team – and considering we’re talking about the visitors being the All Blacks, that’s a rare position to be in. South Africa will look to try and increase their attacking efficiency and particularly their handling in the 10/12/13 channels, whilst building on what they’ve already displayed in their last two Tests.

“For New Zealand, it’s hard to see a way out for them. The only measure for them is winning – their fans demand ridiculous standards and they’re so far away from those measures that it’s hard to see how they can fix this quickly.

“Expect a comprehensive Springbok win and a hard week ahead for the All Black leadership.”

READ MORE: Rugby Championship: What the All Blacks need to do to beat the Springboks