Continue to fuck with the minds of the northern tinfoil brigade.
The only black spot(s) being the result in Chi town, and perhaps the performances at Eden Park and Dublin (and to a lesser extent Paris) where we won on defence (which is a good thing).
Generally a solid B+ for me.
On review we didn't mess too much with the First XV throughout with the exception of Italy. However injury allowed us some pseudo rotation.
I think we need to confirm a 3rd hooker.
Our top 4 props are good. Next in line needs some looking at. Ofa cops a bit of slack but he held up OK. Laulala and Moli bear looking at next year.
Locks. Top 2 are top 2. Romero has some work to do to stay in front of Barrett. Pat T was a bit of a disappointment on tour. Wanted him to meast it up. Think he suffered from lack of game time. Think he's one of those guys who gets better the more they play. So won't write him off. Bird in the background is worth remembering too.
Loosies: apologies from me to Matt Todd. I didn't think he was Test class. He is. He's not Sam Cane but he's not bad. Ardie at this stage has his niche in the pine.
We missed JK at 6 in Chicago. And I don't think either Squire or Dixon are his replacement. As I have said elsewhere I think Luatua is a more like-for-like replacement. Ioane may be a bench option.
Read was quiet, but hardly a passenger. A long term replacement 8 is needed too. Ioane is not that yet IMO.
Halfbacks. We're well served. We all know about Smith's form dip. Disappointing. But a month or two off to get his head right will do him a world of good.
TJ's form has been a huge plus.
Back up from TKB, Weber and Pulu and there's plenty of depth.
When you consider Lima Sopoaga is rated the 3rd 10 we're doing good there.
BB killed it this year. AC still looks really good even if he is not BB.
As always we need to consider who else is around. Need at least 4 10s one of whom can whitebait. DMac must be in the mix I suppose.
Midfield. Well after starting the year with this area as a point of major panic, whilst it's not a weapon currently it's not the weakness it could gave been.
ALB looks the part. Crotty makes whoever he is there with look good. Fekitoa has his moments. Moala runs hard and straight. Reiko (just for @GT12) looked comfortable in his outings. Tamanivalu may be a bit of a work on.
Given SBW will be around, Barrett Jr will have a full SR campaign, and Charlie Ngatai may be over his head knocks (hopefully - for his sake as much as anything else) we're not thin at 12/13.
Wings. We had our moments. Savea was up and down. He suffered a lot from reputation lag though. If he didn't score from 35m out and only beat one tackler he was "useless". Some of the criticism was justified some of it wasn't. Naholo had flashes but I'm sure we hoped for a bit more. Given we were forced to play Dagg at 14 says something about the depth and form of our wings.
Ioane could be additional cover here and if course NMS will hopefully be back. Nanai may be an option too.
BFA was excellent through the year. Dagg excellent deputy.
Considering though that Dagg was the best option at wing we need to look for depth in the back 3. As above NMS covers this and Nanai has been in the mix. Proctor may be on the fringes.
With regard to tactics I think teams have worked out that they can't kick it back to us. So they hold on to the ball more. Hence we've had to defend. And by crikey the defence has been awesome. Teams may have worked out that they need to hold on to the ball, they just need to learn how to hold on to it and do something with it to break that defence.
In a lot of ways we've slowly been dragged back to the pack from where we were at the start of the season .. or at least the chasing pack has caught us a little.
I think Aussie at Eden Park looked dangerous and have backed that up (even allowing for Ireland result).
Not sure of some of our tactics. Plenty of times I'd have liked to work the corners rather than a half pie kick which turned over possession 60m out. We did that too much against Aus at EP, Ireland and France. And they were all good enough to take advantage and mount attacks. Deeper kicks would have put more pressure on.
Gday all, thought I would quickly have a look at the AB's stats for 2016 and it quickly became apparent how lopsided games with Peyper have been. Stats speak for themselves. Hopefully no errors, stats taken from NZ Herald site.
Whom do the 'fern see as the respective best players for the Lions...?
Considering the AB's lineup vs Ireland on the weekend is probably our #1 lineup incl. Kaino and Crotty or SBW for Fekitoa - ALB stays in. Maybe Milner-Skudder for Dagg, maybe not. Its shaping to be a hell of a series...
Personally, I don't think the Lions will be lucky enough to have all their best players available by the 1st test...they're going to be seriously battered by the time they get to the AB's
Heres a most of a XV that have impressed me...
2 Best or Hartley
4, 5 from: Donnacha Ryan, Devon Toner, Courtney Lawes, (Marco Itoje will get in there somewhere) Irish Locks impressed me, they mostly held their own ball, and matched it well enough with Whitelock and Retallick in key locking areas. Retallick is the man because he just offers all the extras - can he start taking shots at goal ala John Eales?
6 Robshaw maybe
7 O'Brien (Warburton is overrated - O'Brien just wants to mix it with the AB's)
9 Conor Murray
11 North (looked good until injured in 2nd test?)
I reckon the AB's will have parity in the Front Rows, advantage in Locks, maybe slight disadvantage in back row - depending on how Cane, Kaino, Read hold up.
Pretty even in 9 & 10, thank god A.Smith has a super season to sort his shit out.
Wings & Midfield even. I like the Crotty/ALB combo. How will SBW go outside Barrett?
Ben Smith > than anything the B&I have.
We won't have that advantage of going boom with 20min to go. We'll have to be up for it from 1st minute.
One more time out for the First XV? Or tinkering around the edges?
I'm inclined to hope for the former.
Expect TJP to start.
How is Cane's ankle? So does Todd start? Ardie looked handy in his cameo.
JK back at 6 surely.
Crotty back and available?
BFA was apparently knocked. His availability or otherwise could shake up the back three. Dagg would have to be 15 but what yo do on the wings in that eventuality?
Not going to posit a team until we know who is available. Which will make it difficult for Shag not havIng suitable guidance ... but am sure he'll manage.
WRT France. Who has watched them? I didn't take all that much notice of the game this morning but it was obviously close. How ate they looking as a team.
I did think they blew that last play (despite Hometown refusing to award a penalty). If they were going to go for the dg they should have worked the pick and go to the posts a bit more rather than trying from 35m out.