The one change All Black fans might need to get used to

Analysis – The All Blacks and England will no doubt be making a few adjustments for this weekend’s test at Eden Park.

First off, there’s the injury enforced selections, but the inclusion of Finlay Christie and Fin Baxter into both starting lineups had been well telegraphed. But while it’s highly unlikely Scott Robertson and Steve Borthwick will divulge much more about how they plan to win, the 16-15 result in Dunedin did show one pretty big difference between what the All Blacks of the last four or even eight years would’ve gone about dealing with a tough opponent.

The All Blacks scored two well taken first half tries, but only managed to string more than 10 phases together twice. One resulted in Sevu Reece’s try, but the other was an abomination of poor decisions that led to Marcus Smith’s penalty goal just before the break. Robertson’s response was to toss the original plan out and simply kick as much as possible (23 times to be exact) in the second half, the All Blacks didn’t even look like scoring a try and weren’t too fussed about it either.

“We all found out the nature of it, that’s it’s test football. The jeopardy at the end there, how we create those moments, and we might get 10 phases, we might not. It might be a stop-start, set piece game or could be more kicking. If it is two or three phases and we’re kicking, we’ll play the ball slowly… it depends on the nature of the game,” Robertson said.

It was, in short, an admission that the English had adjusted to the All Black plan after Reece’s try so well that the next time they tried it, it ended with the worst possible result.

“We looked at it and thought: OK, how can we create opportunities out of it… just had a focus on what we think would work. You can concentrate a bit too much on the opposition at times, but we know they’re coming,” said Robertson.

The response was a more pragmatic, humble one from the All Blacks, who in the past would’ve simply backed their natural ability to run the ball out of their own end.

England coach Steve Borthwick.

Borthwick said that the slightest of tactical changes can make a world of difference.

“I think they are really important. The level of analysis to try and really understand that is vital. There will be one or two things again this weekend as well, hopefully we can cause New Zealand one or two problems.”

We’ve heard a lot about rush defence and line speed this week, but really, it’s nothing new and the base concepts are something the All Blacks have managed to circumvent plenty of times. The real trick Borthwick played was with who and how he employed it, sending mixed signals to the All Blacks about who was coming after them so they could never get a read on what was going to happen. Clearly, Robertson couldn’t either, hence the fallback to a much more conservative Plan B.

To their credit, the All Blacks executed it almost perfectly after Imanuel Feyi-Waboso’s try, keeping England pinned in their half and giving them little option than to kick it straight back. Given the state of the game right now, one that heavily favours tactical kicking due to the 50/22 rule and a clearance to touch inside one’s own half being almost as useful to the opposition as a penalty, it makes an awful lot of sense that Robertson would play to that advantage.

But it might take some sort of getting used to, something Borthwick wryly noted in a conversation with a local at Dunedin airport.

“He said ‘you guys played well yesterday, but you’ll get beat in Auckland. Next time we’ll beat you with style’. I think there’s some expectation there from New Zealand supporters that there be style and New Zealand to play with a different style than they did… it’ll be interesting to see if New Zealand do.”

While that bloke’s sentiments might resonate with a lot around the country, he might need to get on board with the fact that it only took this All Black side about 20 minutes of things not going their way to completely shift down to grind mode, rather than stepping up a gear and scoring tries.

Sign of the times? Almost certainly, but if that’s what it takes to win, so be it.

All Blacks v England

Kick-off: 7.05pm, Saturday 13 July

Eden Park, Auckland

Live blog coverage on RNZ Sport

All Blacks: 1, Ethan de Groot 2. Codie Taylor 3. Tyrel Lomax 4. Scott Barrett (captain) 5, Patrick Tuipulotu, 6. Samipeni Finau 7. Dalton Papali’i 8. Ardie Savea (vice-captain) 9. Finlay Christie 10. Damian McKenzie 11. Mark Tele’a 12. Jordie Barrett 13. Rieko Ioane 14. Sevu Reece 15. Stephen Perofeta

Bench: 16. Asafo Aumua 17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi 18. Fletcher Newell 19. Tupou Vaa’i 20. Luke Jacobson 21. Cortez Ratima 22. Anton Lienert-Brown 23. Beauden Barrett

England: 15. George Furbank 14. Immanuel Feyi-Waboso 13. Henry Slade (vice-captain) 12. Ollie Lawrence 11. Tommy Freeman 10. Marcus Smith 9. Alex Mitchell 8. Ben Earl (vice-captain) 7. Sam Underhill 6. Chandler Cunningham-South 5. George Martin 4. Maro Itoje (vice-captain) 3. Will Stuart 2. Jamie George (captain) 1. Fin Baxter

Bench: 16. Theo Dan 17. Bevan Rodd 18. Dan Cole 19. Alex Coles 20. Tom Curry 21. Ben Spencer 22. Fin Smith 23. Ollie Sleightholme

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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