Impact Off the Bench the All Blacks Greatest Strength

New Zealand v Samoa
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In the modern rugby game, a 15 man game has become a 23 man game. The affect that substitutions have made on the modern sport of rugby is immense. An improvement, on both the level of athletic impact that two players bring to a single position over 80 minutes is superior to the past, and the masters of the ‘impact off the bench’ is the All Blacks greatest strength.

In last nights International test match, saw the New Zealand All Blacks put 78 points over the Samoan team. Very much so, a point-a-minute result, that leads many commentators to applaud the side as the greatest employers of a 23 man style of rugby. Period.

Impact of the Bench the All Blacks Greatest Strength

Many will reflect that over the course of the 80 minute game played at Eden Park, the All Blacks had less possession and territory. In fact, they spent much of the game establishing good defense, as Samoa first tested the hosts. In a charged opening 40 minutes, the game saw few opportunities.

Of those, New Zealand hit hard; and fast. Four opportunities were taken. Leading 28-0, it showed that the so called ‘rust’ that Steve Hansen had identified was present. It needed to be shaken free, and after the team talk and a change of ends, the balance went more with the home side.

Matchday captain Ben Smith was pleased in his sides performance. He told Ian Smith “we’ll go away and have a good look at it, and Samoa really tested us. We’ll make sure we are better next week.”

All Black captain Ben Smith (C) enjoys watching the teams final try with Beauden Barrett (L) and Jerome Kaino (L) during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Samoa. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

“We had to do the basics really well, and that’s [impact off the bench] where we profited. That is part of the squad, when they come on they really pick-up the tempo and add a lot of energy to our game.”

And the side did that exceptionally well against Samoa. It will be high on the list of positives, and a factor that the British and Irish Lions must combat on June 24. 

Second Half Saw a Near Perfect Performance

Many fans will say that once Israel Dagg scored at the 41:55 minute mark, it opened the flood gates. And with a total of 50 points scored, the evidence clearly in the All Blacks favour. How they achieved that, and especially how the additional impact from replacements assisted in that total, was clear to see.

“The bench. Massive impact off the bench, and I guess that’s what the All Blacks are renowned for.”

Post match, the tributes and applause came easily. From the various media, it was repeated across many channels. Local broadcaster SkySports had former All Blacks, commentators and even a former Wales International Shane Howarth, all speaking in awe of the home sides performance.

When the likes of TJ Perenara and Lima Sopoaga entered, the ‘All Black machine’ carried on running. Not disjointed as in the past. They didn’t stumble over the other, like in Chicago. It was an injection, and that is the All Blacks greatest strength drawn from the win in Auckland.

101-14 in 2008 might be the highest record score, but the 2017 occasion was far more polished than some expected. Whatever rust that Hansen and his coaching group were fearful of, was brushed clean. They too easily thrashed the opposition; with the up most respect. The seventh meeting between the nations, it was more about how the All Blacks were progressing in their preparations before the opening test of the DHL Lions series.

Street Smart All Blacks Take All the Positives from the Match

Eden Park saw a well rehearsed New Zealand team use all of it’s resources best. They were not only street smart, but also focused. The majority of players; Sonny Bill Williams and Beauden Barrett, played to their potential. In the past, the opening game was the first test of a series. Matches versus Wales, Ireland or England, the opening game would sometimes get away from the team.

Not in 2017. Last night, they were forthright in their set-piece, practiced in many technical phases of the game–100% in scrums, lineouts and with a lower number of missed tackles. Importantly, discipline was a factor. Conceding only seven penalties, not infringements produced zero yellow cards. Something that affected their 2015 Rugby World Cup opener, it was a clean game.

The All Blacks have hit the ground running. 78-0 is a superb effort. It continues the unbeaten record at Eden Park since 1994, and clinical in their effective output. Finishing qualities were high, skill-set, and the injection of the substitutions.

When analyzed in isolation, this game might well be an example of the ‘best of the All Blacks’. Counter attack, ruthless in both attack and defense [zero points conceded]. Offloads went to hand–something that in past years, often went to ground. The execution was impressive, and when replacements came on, they continued that same level of ability and drive.

Steve Hansen Quite Satisfied with First Hit-out

In his comments, you could see that Hansen has less to worry about, than he has had in the previous two years of his tenure. “The execution got better as the night went on. A fair amount of lack of cohesion at times, but as the game went on they started to work their rhythm and their connections.”

“You’ve got to be happy. We’ve been in these situations [opening test] before and been a lot rustier than this.”

With all the changes in personnel, the new players added to the group [Jordie Barrett and Fifita], Hansen was happiest with Codie Taylor, the line out and with the bench. “I thought Codie went good. His defensive work around the fringes and off the back of the lineout. The bench is asked to do things, and I thought Wyatt Crockett and Scott Barrett combined well as soon as they came on.

“Are we the finished unit yet? Of course we’re not, and we know we have work to do,” and he said the team will look forward to watching the Lions play the Maori. That challenge (see below) will lead to selections made on Sunday for the test-week build up.

But he; like most New Zealand rugby fans, will be thrilled with how the team and the exceptional bench, the All Blacks greatest strength, played very well in Auckland last night.

New Zealand 78 (A. Lienert-Brown, B. Barrett (2), A. Savea (2), S. Williams, I. Dagg, J. Savea, C. Taylor, V. Fifita, TJ. Perenara, S. Cane tries; B. Barrett 7 cons; L. Sopoaga 3 cons)
Samoa 0


Tomorrow is a Totally Different Challenge

While yesterdays match was more about ‘ridding the All Blacks of any rust’ the two games on Saturday are about carrying on with team objectives.

Match number one: Black Ferns v Red Roses

This is a de-facto World Championship game. The two sides sit at the top of the women’s rugby rankings, and the home side would love to improve that tiny percentage. Sitting 3.4% above the current World Cup champs, it may only be a peace-meal figure. For the Black Ferns, to win in Rotorua, is to reclaim the position of authority.

Expect plenty from the two sides. England too have big forwards and a backline that has the potential to run rings around the Black Ferns. Not that the local players would permit that. A proud, proud history and the ideal opening course at a fixture where the fans will feast on the occasion.

But, with vocal support on Saturday afternoon, it might suit the England women more. They may gain both the technical edge, but also have the ‘Lions share’ of the crowd support. This could come down to whichever side holds the emotion in check….as well as who can release their attacking outside backs.

Match number two: New Zealand Maori v British and Irish Lions

Some will claim this game to be more exhibition than any indicator of form. They would be wrong. For years, the NZ Maori team held some of the brightest talent not to play for the senior XV. And in 2017, the backline alone might be worthy of an ‘All Star match line-up’.

The tourists are suffering too. Now sitting at two matches won/two losses, it is a balancing place in the schedule. Often called the fourth test–with the sturdy challenge made by all three Super Rugby sides and the NZ Provincial Barbarians, the match in Rotorua could again put a dent in the Lions teams hopes.

The Maori will play with two elements at the forefront. Flair: playing with no regrets and less to lose, Colin Cooper’s men can play without reservation. And they have ‘Pride of their own’. A Proud people: both the women and men honour the past and future of the game. They also have form over the Lions–winning in 2005, that record will be a motivator for both teams Saturday.

Rich History of Games Between Lions and NZ Maori

In eight matches since 1930, the Maori All Blacks have always been an important clash. And the respective sides again have been selected to bring out the best in the other. Lions captain Peter O’Mahony has been called in, to cover Sam Warburton who is still carrying a fitness issue; and starts from the bench in Rotorua.

“To get the nod from Warren this weekend is hugely special, not just me but for all the clubs, people and family who have put effort into me.

“We want to win but first and foremost, we need a performance.”

And for the NZ Maori side, their captain Ash Dixon will play for his people, to honour the jersey. All players represent their whanau [family] and tribe. Head coach Colin Cooper knows how important the fixture is. He wants his group to bring their skill and potential to the match. Cooper told;

“We recognize the challenge that is ahead of us on Saturday, but we’re really excited as a group by the opportunity we have to represent New Zealand, Maoridom and the fans that will descend on Rotorua this weekend.”

With the class of the Maori selection, it has ‘star power’ throughout – see above. And similar to the way that the All Blacks replacements came on and added value, the Maori team will want to be seen as a valuable date on the Lions tour schedule. The quality of players will surely make tonight’s match a spectacle worthy of a test match.

The women’s Black Ferns side meet England at 5:00pm (NZT) before the Maori All Blacks play the British and Irish Lions at 7:35pm in front of a sold out 28,000 strong crowd in Rotorua.

“Main photo credit”