As they say, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have one.
I think it’s time to face the fact that this AB team is good, but not great. It’s going to be a cracking World Cup, but our chances are as low as they’ve been since 1991. That's probably good for rugby, but it also shows how very very lucky we've been for, well, about 10 years really.
Ireland play a great pattern, were incredibly accurate, and took their opportunities well, while (mostly) shutting us down. They deserve the No. 1 world ranking and I assume took it with this victory. They also rightly showed that the current balance of power in world rugby has tipped to the North. The Wallabies suck, and the Saffas come and go, while the most consistent teams in the last three years are all from the North. We should recognize that, then set out to destroy it.
From looking at the overall stats, it’s two relatively evenly matched teams (territory, possession, defense percentage, kicks in play, clean breaks, defenders beaten all the same or very close) with them having the territory and possession edge in the first half and us in the second. The game was broken open by one excellent play from them to score a very good try, with us also conceding a greater number of turnovers, and more than twice as many penalties - some of them absolute coach killers from some of our most experienced players (5/11 from Whitelock and Read).
On another day, the movement that they scored from may have been shut down, and Read may have picked up the charge down and given it to Goodhue, and we’d be celebrating a close AB victory. If Rieko's break or another had been finished, we'd be celebrating a good win.Embed from Getty Images
Luckily, that didn't happen, because whether or not this is the loss that this team needed or not, it was certainly the loss that we needed. I've seen posters crowing about us putting 20 points on them in the lead up, and following the loss others hoping that this is due to us 'saving' stuff for next year. Well, that is a fucking dream. We couldn't break down the Lions and we couldn't break down this team, with, let's face it, pretty much our first choice team minus two, while Ireland were missing at least as many big names - especially Murray, which makes them even harder to beat. It's time to face the fact that this All Black team is good, but not great.
This AB team may be able to win a WC. However, as @rotated pointed out very well, very few of this team have experienced real difficulty in the AB jersey, and strangely their continued failures seem to be explained away: This post 2015 team did not win a series against the Lions; has lost to Ireland twice; has not had the highest win percentage (in comparison to the other top three teams) during any year since Richie stopped pulling on the black jersey (England, England, Ireland, source: ESPN statsguru); and has conceded more tries (per game) than any other AB team of the professional era.
Beyond the fact that we should be celebrating the rise of an excellent and well-coached Ireland team, the simple fact is that we, as fans, need to clearly recognize that this team is not that good. They aren't as poor as 1998, but neither are they really that strong, and as @mariner4life points out very well in his post, there are just too many questions about strategy and selection - and the gap between. We appear to have too many old-timers or out-of-formers and as everyone gets older, how are we maintaining our supposed attack? On the back of huge run metres from Barrett, B Smith, Ioane, and Dmac. Of our 338 metres in this match, more than 50% (about 170) come from those four players, which is fine, but equally our forwards are not making enough metres. To put this in perspective, our highest running forward (Savea with 23) only ran as much as their fourth highest forward (O'Mahony) as Ireland got 173 metres out of their forwards, while we managed only 102 from ours. Only three of our 13 forwards ran for more metres than their counterparts (Taylor with 12 versus Best's 4; Retallick with 9 compared to Toner's 4; and COles with 7 compared to Cronin's 3), while their loosies killed us with about twice as many running metres (100 odd versus 50 idd, including subs). As many have stated, we miss some ball-running capability. It's not happening in the midfield either where our starters got 27 touches (12 passes, 15 runs, 41 metres) while theirs got 47 (15 passes, 32 runs, 51 metres). Were we chasing and regathering like two years ago, that might be ok, but we aren't.
The Ireland try came about from almost exactly the same manipulation as England’s try last week, but this time relied on a chip chase. I’m not sure we can be better defend that manipulation than we did today , although perhaps Smith could make a better decision. It seems that we can be manipulated easily though. So, who is the defense coach and is this system that good?
On the other hand, two weeks in a row, we were out-coached with teams having plays deliberately set up to take advantage of our defensive systems, yet we produced what to combat theirs? Chip kicks. Maybe I'm being unfair, but my dad could give the same analysis about using little kicks behind against a rushing defense. Is it possible that Ireland (and the Lions) had also thought about that and have systems in place for trying to deal with it? Is it possible that our attack coach is not really coming up with anything innovative about how to break these teams down? Aren't we really just about the same as the 1998 - 2003 teams in relying on some brilliance from our outsides?
We’ve also got skill problems limiting our attack. Beyond the kicking and dropped balls, we have turned into a team with poor passing - when we had chances today, we often had bad passes - TJP’s to Ofa which resulted in a penalty jumps out here, but it's also been a pattern this year (e.g., Smith to Savea vs England). Do we miss Nick the kick? Who is our skills coach, and do they need the boot?
The 2011 winning team was coached by a group of individuals who weren't complacent - can our coaches say that about themselves?
Are they good enough or skilled enough to know what complacency looks like?
Is Kieran Read in the the same league as McCaw in that he should never be taken off? I just don’t see him being the same leader, and when he’s poor, he rarely turns it around mid game. He’s been so up and down this year, and our performance next year is really reliant on his form and leadership, because as @mariner4life explains, there doesn’t appear much planning behind him. I think @Duluth may be right in that a move to 6 could work, with a ball runner such as Akira as the primary midfield pod runner, with Read moving back out to the left and Taylor on the right.Embed from Getty Images
The problem with that is whether he still has the speed for that (as M4L mentioned), but at least he should be strong enough to be the lone forward in ruck attendance out there. If he doesn't move, what is our strategy for our forwards? Can Read get back to full fitness? Where and how are we covering the ground to run teams down, and who is doing it? Barrett? Dmac? Seems pretty easy to counteract that, so who and where are the hard yards being put it?
Furthermore, have we stopped at the 1-3-3-1? Ireland made it look pretty easy to defend against. If we can't run teams down by going behind them or side to side, ala Backadder Crusaders, what is the back-up plan? And, who are the players to put that in action? It's not so much the defeat today, as the total lack of ideas by - supposedly - some of the most gifted players on the planet. Perhaps, just perhaps, those players need us to make a little more space for them to do their work?Embed from Getty Images
So, up front, beyond the loosies and locks - where we will hopefully never have BBBR in such bad form again - is being good at set piece really enough? Poor old Karl found out what it's like to come up against the best today (8 tackles, 2 misses, 0 passes, 0 runs, 0 metres, 1 penalty conceded). Let's hope it was a good 'learning'. Furlong jumps out with his performance - not only at set piece, but also around the field - and it is backed up by the stats (6 tackles, no miss, 6 passes, 11 runs, 22 metres, 1 defender beaten) while he was also supported by Healy (12 metres) and McGrath (10 metres off 5 runs). Is there a reason why we can't get better help around the field from our front rowers? It's not to say that Franks did poorly - he put in a good shift on defense (17 made, 1 missed, 3 runs, 2 metres). However, I think this game really throws in to light a potential problem about us only expecting our tighties to scrum and clean. Don't we also ask all our players to clean when needed - poor fucking Dmac is in there half time when the ball goes wide. So, what's up? Is it due to our forwards coach only really being a scrum coach?
I'm no pro and I'm sitting on my couch writing this, but I think that this statement is a fair enough reflection of where they are at: This AB team isn't great.
The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that you have one.