After a mixed Rugby Championship tournament; which saw New Zealand lift the title -despite a defeat to South Africa and a first home loss to Argentina – this weekend’s Cardiff Autumn International fixture continues to demand the very best of the All Blacks 2022 team.
After the All Blacks kicked off their northern hemisphere tour with a win over Japan last weekend, this scheduled match against Wales places much more pressure on the visitors. It wasn’t the most convincing win for Ian Foster’s side last Saturday – made worse when second-row Brodie Retallick was sent off following a dangerous cleanout.
On top of that, captain Sam Cane and hooker Dane Coles both picked up injuries which sees those key names miss the remainder of the tour.
This week, they travelled to Cardiff and will meet a Welsh team who have also faced some inconsistencies over the last year. The hosts went from losing at home to Italy, to winning away in South Africawinning away in South Africa for the very first time. Some good, some bad. And although Wales head coach Wayne Pivac will want to put an end to the Kiwi’s 69-year unbeaten streak, there will be few who imagine the Welsh earning a victory against their New Zealand counterparts for the first time since 1953.
With Foster and Pivac set to each be at the helm for next year’s Rugby World Cup (despite shaky starts to their tenures as international coaches) it is going to be an intriguing contest this weekend.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 3, 2022
However, both coaches and teams are under intense pressure from fans. So after an unconvincing win last time out, Foster could be the man under the most amount despite winning four out of his group’s last five Tests. Yet what lies ahead is as uncertain as it appeared in July of this year.
What will the All Blacks bring to Cardiff Autumn International fixture?
Rugby correspondent Iestyn Rhys Thomas takes a closer look at exactly what the All Blacks should bring to the Principality Stadium.
Over-dependence on jersey number 9
During 2021, one of Foster’s biggest worries would have been his attack as New Zealand would be heavily reliant on individuals to score tries.
Although a similar group chosen for the opening Test of the summer against Ireland, the All Blacks had changed their shape completely to use the skill set of scrumhalf Aaron Smith. Smith is arguably one of the best passes of a ball on the planet and Foster used him brilliantly in the first Test.
The All Blacks would set up with a pod of three and Smith would regularly pick one of that pod that would carry it in. Occasionally, it would be the middle of the three-man pod that would be crashing it in. However, the Irish defence was so focused on the first two men of the pod, Smith would simply fizz a pass out to the third man. The other two forwards of the pod would fix the defence by literally holding their hands up and expecting the ball.
In the build-up to their first try of the summer, Smith made an assist for Jordie Barrett by passing it through Beauden Barrett and David Havili as fullback Barrett crashed over. It was a very similar attacking shape that Joe Schmidt used when he was head coach of Ireland before the 2019 Rugby World Cup; who is now the AB’s attack coach.
Although it didn’t quite work for the entire summer, following series defeat to Ireland placed huge external pressure on the country. The Rugby Championship was a scrappy collection of outcomes.
They would only use the fly-half to link up with another pod or to kick but attempted to use more of the backs throughout. A quality performance in South Africa was followed by two significant losses to Argentina. Smith was still the first pick, yet even he showed signs of being ineffective – signals that Wales must surely have noted.
In their win over Japan, it wasn’t as fluid as New Zealand fans wanted with some scathing attacks from the NZ media. This week, Smith starts again, with Brad Weber an able sub off the bench.
An interesting set-play move
From their win against the Brave Blossoms, fans saw a good play from the All Blacks from a lineout set-play, which resulted in their first try of the game scored by Brodie Retallick. Judging by that, this weekend’s game will not solely be won on defence or by the speed of the ball.
Examples like below show how the current game is one that Welsh player’s must be observant of (at all times).
A lineout off the top saw Richie Mo’unga pass to skipper Sam Cane, who smashes into contact as a part of a pod of three. Inside centre Roger Tuivasa-Sheck joins with two forwards to create this pod, that enables an extra forward in midfield.
Here scrumhalf Finlay Christie switches to the blindside, and found flanker Shannon Frizell ready, who put hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho through the defence before giving the final pass to Retallick. [fortunately for supporters of Wales, Retallick won’t be competing, as he was subsequently suspended for three games after an illegal cleanout during last week’s match).
How it occurs is that Christie runs a loop around Frizell, as they identified a hole between forwards and backs in the Japanese defence. Study it, the All Blacks target a separate gap in defence as hooker Atsushi Sakate doesn’t drift enough to cover the gap. So, he fans out but fades too much, which leaves a gap for Taukei’aho to go through.
⏱️ Half-time in Tokyo: #JAPvNZL
🇯🇵 Japan 17 – 21 All Blacks 🇳🇿
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) October 29, 2022
It is certainly something for Pivac to keep an eye out for. New Zealand carries many attacking threats, yet it is the weakness to adapt that constantly unravels early Welsh hopes. The team has often kept the scoreline close to begin with, only for a flurry of New Zealand tries at the operative moment, when the All Blacks gain ascendency.
So awareness of recent All Blacks’ trends and tactics is how the hosts should seek out that first elusive home town win. That is if they are given the possession and territory to allow strike players like Louis Rees-Zammit, any opportunity to show his ability in front of home fans.
Following this Test match in Cardiff and their trip to Murrayfield, Foster will be looking for successive victories, before the All Blacks complete ‘their mission’ against old foe England, on November 19.
Follow all the Autumn International fixtures this November, with Last Word on Rugby.
“Main photo credit”
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