Scott Robertson reveals what he learnt about international rugby as All Blacks aim to become ‘Test match aware’

David Skippers
New All Blacks boss Scott Robertson coaching the Barbarians.

New All Blacks boss Scott Robertson.

New Zealand head coach Scott Robertson admitted that he is adapting fast to international rugby and has called for improvement from his charges ahead of their second Test against England at Eden Park on Saturday.

Robertson took charge of the All Blacks for the first time last Saturday and they were involved in a tightly-fought contest with the Red Rose at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Momentum between the two sides ebbed and flowed throughout, and they were level at 10-10 at half-time before Immanuel Feyi-Waboso crossed for a try early in the second half, which gave the visitors a 15-10 lead.

One-point victory

However, the All Blacks kept their composure and clinched a narrow 16-15 victory after Damian McKenzie slotted two penalties.

It was Robertson‘s first taste of international rugby as a coach and he came into Saturday’s encounter with high expectations after gaining plenty of success with the Crusaders as he guided them to seven Super Rugby titles during his stint as their head coach between 2017 and 2023.

Robertson admitted that he was learning fast about the rigours of Test rugby but paid tribute to England for the pressure they put on his side but also praised his senior players for the way they adapted to it.

“It can swing pretty quickly. It was great football, I thought the opportunities we created in the first half we didn’t convert and put scoreboard pressure on,” he said.

“They started the second half really well and, bang, the game changes so quickly.

“The margins, we didn’t quite nail what we supposed to and they kept us on the back foot. We were playing in our own garden for a long time weren’t we? When we had a couple of opportunities, the leaders stood up.”

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An area of concern for the All Blacks was their lineout work, as they lost some balls on their own throw-ins and Robertson singled out England lock Maro Itoje for special praise for the pressure he put on the All Blacks at the set-piece.

“Maro… and we can probably be a little bit quicker,” said the coach when asked to identify the reason for his team underperforming in the lineouts. “We’ve just got to think a bit faster and be faster on our feet, but fair play to him, he’s an operator.”

England face a huge challenge in Saturday’s second Test at Eden Park as the venue has been a real fortress for the All Blacks who have been unbeaten in 48 consecutive Tests there stretching back to 1994.

Despite his side’s excellent record at the ground, Robertson is not reading too much into the Eden Park factor, although he realises the importance of New Zealand’s record there.

“Well, the only advantage you have is in your performance and preparing for it” he added. “I said yesterday, there’s a respect for Eden Park and what the past All Blacks teams have done to perform and create.”

Improvement expected

While the 49-year-old is confident his side will deliver a much-improved performance, he identified the key areas in which they have to be better.

“I think we’ll be Test match aware,” said Robertson. “We’ve got to refine a few things and our job as coaches is to make sure we simplify things to make everyone think fast and act fast, and that’s when we’re at our best.”

Saturday’s Test in Dunedin was the All Blacks’ first match since last year’s Rugby World Cup final loss to the Springboks, which led to allegations of rustiness being used as a reason for them not being at their best in that first Test against England, but Robertson does not agree.

“Rust is an excuse isn’t it? It’s decision-making and just seeing ourselves. We can own it and get better.”

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