Blogs & Opinion


Stuart Barnes:

Most Popular Posts:

Opinion Archive:

Size doesn't matter for 'complete' All Blacks side, says Stuart Barnes

Stuart Barnes - Stuart Barnes Posted 18th August 2014 view comments

Seventeen more straight wins and New Zealand will break the first tier test record for consecutive victories.

If they play anywhere near as well as they did against Australia at Eden Park they are as good as there. Fortunately for the teams that have the privilege to play them, rugby does not work like that. Such peaks are rarely sustained. The All Blacks played at their favourite venue, the weather did nothing to level the game up and it was wonderfully refereed. Such circumstances tend to favour the more talented team and there is none more talented at the moment than this New Zealand side.

That is the good news for the playing world of rugby. Frankly for those more passive viewing members of the global fraternity it is something of a shame that such a level of performance cannot be maintained match after match. Take your patriotism out of the picture and consider the quality of the sport. This was rugby near its best.

Complete performance: New Zealand thump Australia in the Rugby Championship

Complete performance: New Zealand thump Australia in the Rugby Championship

Anyone with the love of the game in their heart should want nothing but this standard of rugby. It was not as if it was the non tackling `basketball’ rugby with which some deluded northern hemisphere viewers still regard southern hemisphere’s interpretation of the game. It was not a case of defences being bad but attacks excellent as eight tries were scored. New Zealand scored six of them with three from close range forward play and two the result of long range turnovers. If you like your forward play New Zealand did it for you, if you enjoy the fast and loose stuff, this was also your bag; the complete performance.

Having been close up with the All Blacks through the summer on the England tour it is worth reiterating the fact that they are not a physically imposing team. They have greyhounds behind the scrum and a number of lean, muscular forwards who probably cannot bench press anything like as much as their northern hemisphere counterparts.

Size is not everything, in fact New Zealand emphasise that an understanding of the game, an intelligence and a great set of skills eclipses raw bulk just about every time. Look at their win ratio compared to the rest of the world. It is impossible to argue that `the modern game’ has changed quite as dramatically as some people would like to think. To watch New Zealand near their best and to think an extra session in the gym is more beneficial than working on skills is to be somewhere close to rugby madness. Alas there is much insanity in the game.

England has been on the fringe most of the last decade but under Stuart Lancaster they have definitely emerged playing a faster and more ambitious brand of rugby. But what is good enough for the Six Nations is nowhere near sufficient for New Zealand. We saw that when the All Blacks finally got a head of steam up in the summer. We saw it when Australia opened the game up Saturday. Long term, New Zealand has the winning formula but against them imitation isn’t so much flattery as rugby suicide.

To beat the All Blacks the pitch has to be shrunk in width and the tempo taken out of the game. Either that or they must be off their game. It happens but at the moment the best chance of beating them is by taking the oxygen out of the game. A dynamic driving game is the best hope which leaves Argentina looking more likely conquerors than South Africa.

Pumas

The Pumas did everything but beat the Springboks on Saturday afternoon in Argentina. The better scrum, the better breakdown team, the more likely to make gain line breaks, all this plus Juan Martin Hernandez deeming to remind us how good a rugby player he can be after a few wilderness years. Man for man the home side eclipsed South Africa but the strength of 16 -23 saved the Springboks.

However, in the longer term the variation of Argentina and the improvement from Nicholas Sanchez who is developing into a decent fly half has to be good news for the South American side. South Africa is - short term - in a difficult place with reconstruction on the agenda as players like Handre Pollard is rushed through into the ranks in a bid to be game sharp in 2015. Without the brain of Fourie du Preez (even though Ruan Pienaar is a fine player in his own right) the Springboks look a little rudderless in the tactical stakes.

Juan de Villiers is a fine leader and motivator but the team has to learn to be a lot more street smart if they are not to risk a humbling against New Zealand. Long term they are heading in the right direction but maybe a steadier, older set of hands at half back is required to bring the running power of their pack into play and take out the genius sparked by Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden on Saturday.

Meanwhile we remain the TV company that home teams do not want to see visit them. In the world of French rugby, where home is spelled `victoire’ we have covered three matches with three away wins to date. Toulon must be pleased they escaped our attention against La Rochelle at the weekend.

Stuart answers your emails...

Got a question for Stuart? Email him at skysportsclub@bskyb.com or use the feedback form below.

Hi Stuart, Dylan Hartley says the offseason isn’t long enough – especially for the international players -do you agree with this? James F

STUART REPLIES: James, in some ways I am sure he is right, especially taking tours into account but on the flip side they are paid to play and a longer pre season equates to either fewer games (economically that could easily be equated with less money for Hartley and his fellow internationals) or a more congested fixture. There is no such thing as a perfect solution but it might be that a longer pre season would make life harder for everyone....There is no right or wrong to this question.

Can Piri Weepu keep my beloved London Welsh in the Premiership? And is his signing a signal of what’s to come at the club? Thanks Stuart – love the column. Jonathan Taggart
 

STUART REPLIES: Jonathan, Piri Weepu has vast experience and a great rugby brain. If he gets himself in test match shape, both physically and mentally he could be one of the signings of the Premiership season, as for the shape of things to come....I suggest you ask the LW management because I have no more idea than you but players like PW don't come cheap.

Post to your View!

Be the first to post a comment on this story

Add Comment*

Send us your views

Are you a Sky Sports subscriber?

*All fields required, your email address will be kept private

back to top

Other Rugby Union Experts:

Latest Posts in Rugby Union:

Dewi Morris

Morris: Toulon too strong

A Matt Giteau-inspired Toulon should win the Top 14 with some attractive rugby, says Dewi Morris....

Latest News RSS feeds

Barnes: Lancaster deal too soon

The RFU have been too hasty in handing Stuart Lancaster a contract until 2020, says Stuart Barnes.

RFU to review Lancaster deal

The Rugby Football Union will review Stuart Lancaster’s record contract extension after the Rugby World Cup next year.

New England deal for Lancaster

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has extended his contract with the Rugby Football Union until 2020.

Greenwood backs Lancaster deal

Will Greenwood has backed the decision to extend England head coach Stuart Lancaster's contract until 2019.

South Africa wait on Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen has been named in South Africa’s team to face New Zealand on Saturday despite being injured.

Features

South Africa and New Zealand will produce another thriller, says Sean Fitzpatrick

South Africa and New Zealand will produce another thriller, says Sean Fitzpatrick

New Zealand wrapped up a third consecutive Rugby Championship title last Saturday with a scintillating performance to beat Argentina 34-13 in La Plata.

The Off Load: The best and worst from the world of rugby

The Off Load: The best and worst from the world of rugby

While Europe were busy demolishing the USA in the Ryder Cup, there was rugby from all four corners of the globe to get stuck into over the weekend.

Rugby Championship: South Africa should win battle up front, says Thinus Delport

Rugby Championship: South Africa should win battle up front, says Thinus Delport

South Africa should have the better of Australia up front but they must not allow the backs any time or space, says Thinus Delport.