Surviving another All Blacks loss

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Surviving another All Blacks loss
DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 17: Bundee Aki and Joey Carbery of Ireland celebrate on full time as Jack Goodhue of the All Blacks looks dejected during the International Friendly match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland on November 17, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Not a common experience for fans, although it has occurred twice in this one season, but surviving another All Blacks loss will test the faith of many fans belief.

Some will ask How? Others will think Who is to blame? While a few might suggest Which player can help us win? All those questions and assumptions could make a bad situation worse – so do yourself a favour. Take five, before it overwhelms you, is the best advice possible.

Two losses in a calendar year will test the mettle of the team, and especially it will be the ultimate judgment on the skills of the All Blacks management, in regards to limiting the fallout from unexpected poor results. But supporters can rest assured, the side is feeling it as much as they are.

World Champions on three occasions, the New Zealand national rugby team; known worldwide simply as the All Blacks, are far more used to success than failure. More familiar with winning, and an All Blacks loss only seems to happen ‘every now and again’.

Winning is a constant measure for this team and its support base, so the reaction, concerns and the ‘warning bells’ with any loss can be of national significance. Rugby is the national game mind you, and with it, comes a brighter spotlight than most. So that occurred on Saturday, November 17 will be of major bearing to the attitude and mentality of fans in New Zealand, and around the world.

Surviving another All Blacks loss

From the compounded sense of loss, on the whole, NZ rugby fans have handled the loss well. Not a ‘black Sunday’ post game, but a sense of a let down [from that sides perspective]. The ‘water cooler’ conversation will have been of dismay, but also congratulatory for the Irish efforts.

Not sounding blase but, a loss can bring positives too. While no team wishes to lose, yet many of the best teams have learned from their losses. They gain insight into what they have to improve on, what can happen if you do not continue to raise your own level – and in the All Blacks case, how fast others can catch up.

If an All Blacks loss can refocus the side, then it might do them some good. It certainly worked in 2015 – after they lost to Australia in Sydney, the side had to face the facts; they were not invincible.

Ireland continue their Conquest of the All Blacks

Ireland is now at a comparable level to the New Zealand team, and showed that you can continue to improve after each attempt. It might have taken them over 110 years but, they have finally done it. Having won two of their last three matches, they are the true example of competitiveness; defeating New Zealand in Chicago, and now critically, on their home soil.

It leaves them at the final stage of their conquest….to win a match on New Zealand soil. But, gladly for All Blacks fans, the next home series against Ireland, isn’t planned until 2022.

So the threat from the Irish can be managed in only one other theatre – the Rugby World Cup. It seems that if both sides top their pools, then in all likelihood, they would meet in a Cup final.

And that could show how the conquered Kiwis, may have managed to recover [in that 10 month period]. The day after Dublin, the change must come, for the Champions to remain so.

New Zealand denied scoring a try in All Blacks loss

Repairing the All Blacks loss will mean reviewing the lost match detail. It will not be a pleasant experience, but gladly for the management group, it is not one that they have had to face in a very long time.

The number of occasions where the All Blacks have been denied scoring a try in an International test can be counted on one hand (in recent memory). It rarely happens, though in seriousness, it is one of the causes of concern that must be addressed.

  • 1995 – Rugby World Cup final, Johannesburg. Won 15-12 by South Africa
  • 1998: Wellington, where the Springboks again denied them 3-13 on home soil
  • 2017: Wellington, Second Test of British and Irish Lions tour; 21-24

Add to that list now – November 17, Dublin, Ireland.

By rights, all of those encounters required huge defenses to halt the New Zealand attack. In the 1995 RWC final, it was a mix of emotion, fitness, and the momentous atmosphere which limited the New Zealand teams ability to complete attacking movements. And similarly, the All Blacks loss on Saturday might have some comparables.

Even while Ireland no longer play solely with their hearts on their sleeves, they will have each been deservedly motivated. Securing a maiden win meant they were ‘up’ for the match – and the atmosphere of the packed Aviva Stadium made for a hotbed of rugby.

Fitness is only a minor part in this equation. Not due to illness, but for some All Blacks, a long, long season made this clash – and their continuous, full 80-minute performances – it was a test of their stamina. And of note, Steve Hansen is seemingly unable to replace key players; in lock Sam Whitelock, number eight Kieran Read and first-five Beauden Barrett, (with limited squad size of 23 players) and on Saturday night what fresh reserves the All Blacks did have, could not counter the physicality and determination of the Irish, like have against Argentina, South Africa and Australia.

Passes that should have been held, charge downs, offloads and leaps to catch high kicks, did not come off like most practice. The atmosphere made the situation irrecoverable. And that is of concern to rugby fans. Their inability to complete any of their try-scoring opportunities when under the white heat of a huge encounter is in fact, a continuation of troubles found since 2016.

Some error-laden games had seen a command of their matchplay (seen best in the Rugby World Cup winning side) has begun to creep in. In 2017, many games had a stuttered nature to them, with wins [and another loss to Australia in October] full of mistakes and bad decision making, that showed the side were indeed fallible.

Last weekend, they were incapable of making their usual ‘great escape’ which had saved them on more than one occasion. Being able to rustle up a try from the end of the field was possibly a skill which covered other areas. Joe Schmidt and his men in green harnessed all their power, and held the World Champions down.

No comeback this time. Time to consider, what change is needed?

Looking ahead – 2019, and beyond

Not that any one person can cure the ills of a sports team, it takes the collective effort. In the All Blacks environment, it includes head coach, management team, senior leadership team, and all squad members.

So looking ahead, immediately after Dublin, the All Blacks loss will not be dwelled on. The side head to Italy to wrap up their end of year tour. One final clash for most – Sam Whitelock and Liam Squire have departed; the former suffering exhaustion, the later with a knee injury.

So each player involved in that fixture can play their part of rounding out the season, on a high note. And if looking ahead, the team can start 2019 on the right foot (with The Rugby Championship) then the road to redemption maybe one that brings lessons, learnings, and success.

Beyond that, new players, a new coaching team and new direction will naturally play out. That is the cycle of sport – the highs, lows, success, failure [and suffering of fans belief] all add to the sides ability to change, adapt and improve. This All Blacks loss could prove to be an important step for the current group of players experience, on the road to 2019.

 

“Main photo credit”
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