Tri-Nations rugby: Liam Napier – The five areas of improvement All Blacks need ahead of Argentina rematch

With Kiwi rugby fans still smarting after the All Blacks’ historic defeat to the Pumas at the weekend (and a second successive loss for the first time in more than nine years), Liam Napier looks at five key areas that must be addressed before the rematch in Newcastle on November 28.

Discipline

There’s a fine line between living on the edge and being goaded into costly mistakes.

In recent weeks, the All Blacks have set up camp at the wrong end of that spectrum by allowing the opposition to get under their skin.

Scott Barrett, with his yellow card against the Wallabies in Brisbane that left the All Blacks scrambling at the death; Dane Coles and Shannon Frizell, with their unnecessary slaps tot the face, are high-profile examples of players losing their heads but there have been many other moments, too.

Pumas playmaker Nicolas Sanchez punished the All Blacks’ poor discipline with 18 points from penalties. The week prior, Reece Hodge collected 12 points from penalties for the Wallabies.

Neither Australian referee Nic Berry nor Angus Gardner covered themselves in glory with their officiating but the All Blacks clearly aren’t helping themselves either. In many ways, they have encouraged opponents to provoke them off the ball by giving reactionary responses. For whatever reason, directives around the need to improve discipline have not registered.

With a target on their backs, the All Blacks must be squeaky clean in their final test of the year.

The breakdown

The basic premise of the All Blacks game hasn’t change this year – every time they take the field they seek to play at breakneck speed. When they achieve this they are unstoppable – see the record Sydney shellacking they dished out to the Wallabies.

When they don’t get dominant carriers regularly punching over the gain line and cleaners delivering quick, well-presented possession, they inherently struggle to adapt. Richie Mo’unga was untouchable two weeks ago yet his performance against the Pumas, in continuing to play flat at the line when asked to stand deeper, was symptomatic of a backline constantly on the backfoot.

The blueprint to shut down the All Blacks is now well-established – slow their source of possession, rush them in defence and wait for frustration to set in.

To deliver the required platform, the All Blacks pack needs to take ownership of their core duties – carrying and cleaning with physical dominance. Too often the Pumas not only beat the All Blacks to the breakdown but had more numbers to steal possession.

As much as anything else that reflects urgency and attitude.

Attack

How the All Blacks regressed so sharply in two weeks no one really knows. Six tries and a record victory to near bereft of attacking variety and ideas is astounding.

John Plumtree admitted mass changes to the starting team stunted rhythm in the Brisbane defeat, and perhaps that was the case as Ian Foster returned to his first-choice side against the Pumas too.

In giving up 14 turnovers, the All Blacks produced their most fumbling attacking display since the World Cup semifinal defeat to England.

A disconnect has emerged between the coaching philosophy of attempting to attack space and those on the park sticking to preordained plans.

Foster accused his team of being too “programmed” and having the “blinkers” on.

He urged his playmakers to embrace more variety, particularly around the short kicking game to counter line speed.

We’ll find out next week whether those messages are getting through.

Set piece

Hit and miss is the only way to describe this once reliable weapon.

The set piece could not be categorised as poor, and some of the Pumas’ scrummaging tactics were questionable, but Tyrel Lomax endured a difficult time after being promoted for his first test start at tighthead prop against the Pumas following Ofa Tu’ungafasi’s suspension.

And while the All Blacks only lost two of their 19 lineout throws, one of those came five metres out from the Pumas line in the final 10 minutes. That was a big moment in the match, one previous All Blacks teams have nailed in comeback wins.

The set piece must be a rock solid platform the All Blacks can rely on at all times.

Bench/composure

The traditional post-World Cup exodus is being felt more on the All Blacks bench than it is their starting side.

In previous eras the All Blacks had the luxury of injecting many established test stars from the pine, such was their depth.

Against the Pumas, Foster had three rookies on his bench – Hoskins Sotutu, Alex Hodgman and Tupou Vaa’i.

While Sotutu added significant impact off the back of the scrum, he also threw one wayward pass into touch with men unmarked outside him.

This lack of crunch-time test experience was telling as the All Blacks blew three try-scoring chances in the final 10 minutes. Expect the composition of the bench to change for the second crack at the Pumas with more experience likely to be included.

Composure and clinical finishing, particularly in the dying stages, will be a major work on for those expected to add impact.

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