New Zealand may talk the world out of seeing them as favourites to win this World Cup soon enough. Maybe that’s the plan – building that false sense of security in then bang, into top form when it matters.
It would be nice to think that’s why they bungled their way through against Georgia. It wasn’t impressive. Not really any of it – a few nice passages, a thrilling first foray from Waisake Naholo and not not much more.
Possibly it’s all part of the masterplan. Possibly not, though and while there is time yet for things to click, the All Blacks would be happier if they had played better than they did at the Millennium.
Form matters. It breeds confidence and sends messages to others. Life is just better when teams play well at World Cups – provides more answers than it does questions.
There’s ridiculous public expectation on the one hand about what the All Blacks should be able to do, and a total overselling of the Tier Two nations’ abilities on the other, but somewhere in between there is a balance and it wasn’t found in Cardiff.
For a team with aspirations to be considered the most dominant in history, they will accept they had to be way more convincing than they were playing Georgia’s second team. A rough guess on how much improvement is needed would be about 100 times. Maybe more.
They went 25 minutes without scoring a try which felt painfully long given their volume of possession and command of territory in that period.
The guts of their problem was that they didn’t keep things simple enough when they had the ball. When they ran hard, straight and pass and drew – it was try time.
When they tried to get clever, bring runners against the gain and offload in the traffic, they spilled the ball. There was confusion and inaccuracy and it also failed to show due respect to the Georgian defence which was aggressive, organised and effective when the All Blacks tried to be fancy on the gainline.
Too many times Aaron Smith got the weight of his pass wrong, but in his defence it was primarily because too often receivers were ambiguous whether they wanted the ball or not.
There were too may poor decisions and executions around ball retention and it was all just too awkward. Disjointed, forced, the vibe of a blind date that had been set up by a mutual friend more out of pity than any actual belief things were going to work out.
Somewhere between the training ground and the stadium the All Blacks lost sight of what they should be doing. Games against Tier Two nations always have the potential to be loose, scrappy, ugly affairs because there is more space and with that, players have more time to pick their options. Too much time, though seemed to be the problem for the All Blacks.
They were like the six-year-old let loose in the sweet shop and overwhelmed by the vastness of choice. It didn’t need to be like that though.
They didn’t need to tap penalties inside their own 22 and then kick long after the first recycle – arguably the most brain dead ploy known to man.
They didn’t need to use their hands at the breakdown as often as they did. But they need to scrummage better. They knew that was Georgia’s strength, had eight days to prepare for it and still came second. Head coach Steve Hansen once said of an equally unsatisfactory night against Italy many years back that the All Blacks should just flush the dunny and move on. Sage advice indeed.