The problem for the All Blacks is the coaching
All the ritual quibbling about whether this player or that player would have made a difference in the starting line-up or on the bench is a pointless exercise. The truth is that New Zealand rugby has slowly been giving away its intellectual and physical capital to the rest of the rugby world over the last few years.
Ireland was brought to this point over recent years - in part - by Kiwi IP as well as by player imports. Four of 23 players in today’s game were New Zealanders. This influence of the Kiwi coaching and playing diaspora is also evident in many other international sides, so much so that it is now clear that the brain and brawn drain overseas, itself a legacy of a golden era for the All Blacks, is starting to tell.
Now, under private equity ownership, New Zealand rugby is about to cannibalise itself further, devaluing the brand with money-raising farces like the US and Welsh B matches. The rugby hierarchy there must, surely, now accept that some of the best brains and talent is outside the country and will have to be imported. Instead, a self-satisfied NZR made the cardinal error of not going for renewal after the last World Cup. The lack of fresh ideas against rush defence is the result.
I wonder, also, whether the disruptions from COVID have had an impact, leading to lopsided results against second and third tier countries (Fiji, Tonga, USA) and too many games against Australia, where the code is dying a slow and painful death. The consequence has been atrophy in the forwards, particularly the tight five.
Yet the coaching brains trust has been reminded now on several occasions since the ABs were outmuscled by England at the World Cup of this danger and have been unable to respond. They’ve lost to Ireland now three times in recent years, after not losing in a century before that. They’ve lost to Argentina for the first time in history. And they’ve been exposed by South Africa. Yet, there is still no effective response to the rush defence; still no consistency in selections; still no sign of a Plan B.
On the playing side, yes there is a much discussed lack of an effective inside centre, a quality inheritor to Aaron Smith at halfback, an established dominant blindside, a new generation of locks. But personnel really isn’t the major problem here. The Kiwis playing for Ireland, after all, were all Super Rugby cast-offs, yet they outshone their opposites - particularly James Lowe against Sevu Reece and Gibson-Park against TJP.
It is now plainly evident that the problem for the All Blacks is in the coaching and management set-up. We’ve had two years of tinkering and moving the deck chairs since the Yokohama debacle. It is very hard not to conclude that without a change of coach, this ship is going down.