Having flogged Graham Henry and his team for he last 2 years, I am getting really encouraged about the direction they are taking. They lost the last world cup in my view, because they had the wrong game plan for the top level. They continued to believe NZ could outrun every other nation with pace and flair. When they hit the finals stage of the World Cup, that style did not work. They lost an arm wrestle with France.
What I am seeing is that they are now starting to play the right game to win the tough ones. To win the big ones the All Blacks won't win with the free flowing game that we are used to. The fitness of the modern players and the rules mean that it is a kicking, forward and defence game. They thus need a ruthless, uncompromising pack that plays 80 minutes game after game relentlessly. They need to win the breakdown and have great set pieces. They need an inside back combination that can control the game. They need brilliant destructive defence. They need a great kicking game, especially goal kicking.
All the signs are there that they are getting it. The last three games have been excellent. We out muscled the Australians, and on Sunday morning, the Welsh. The Welsh can moan all they like, but they were lucky to get as close as they did. The disallowed tries could easily have been awarded, and the All Blacks would have won by 21 points. The second half was all the All Blacks and they were dominant. The pitch evened the teams out. The Welsh were pathetically negative when it came to kicking goals in the second half. They were not even trying to win, seeming to be satisfied with a draw. They completely over-rate themselves.
The All Blacks are tracking well. The weak spots to me are Tialata who lacks mobility. If Hayman comes back, or MacIntosh succeeds as a tighthead, this will strengthen us at tighthead. We are blessed at hooker and loosehead, Crockett was great. We have locks everywhere with Williams, Borich and Ross at home. Our loosies are a good unit now with Read and Kaino complementing McCaw, the best in the business, really well. I am not a Leonard fan, but Cowan and Carter are a great combination. Smith is now the best centre in the world. Guilford adds the sort of pace we need and should retain his spot. Muliaina is great and Jane is very good.
At home and not on tour there are a host of All Blacks like Mealamu, Borich, Mackintosh, Hosea Gear, Whitelock, Ali Williams, Weepu, de Malmanche, Lauaki, Elliot, Evans, Wulf, Masaga, Ross and Toeava. There are also some amazing players emerging like Sean Maitland, Granger, Heskith, I. Thompson, Cruden, Israel Dagg, Colin Bourke, Colin Slade, the Waldrons, Stephen Brett, Tim Bateman, Ryan Crotty, Bekhuis and David Smith among others.
So, things are looking good. The South Africans are peaking now, doing and AB's. We are building. If they get the selections right, a blend of the old and the new. And they peak right. And they get some luck... who knows, perhaps they have a chance in 2011.
One more thing. The attitude of the Welsh before the game talking themselves up, and then after the game whinging about the referee - when rubbish refereeing kept them in the game (3 disallowed tries, 2 of which should have been awarded) - is pathetic. They need humility. They are not as good as they think. You would imagine, after 56 years, they might have found humility and what it means to be a good loser. They are not good losers and they lack humility. When they find it, they might go to the next level.