Justin Marshall has given his verdict on how the All Blacks finished out their season under Ian Foster, suggesting they still haven’t adapted to one critically changed area of the game. The New Zealand coach’s job was on the line for the opening part of 2022 after the 1-2 Test series loss at home to Ireland was followed by a terrible first Test defeat in South Africa before another setback at home to Argentina.
Since that grim August Saturday night in Christchurch, results have improved for the All Blacks and they were all set to record their seventh straight victory when leading England 25-6 only to collapse in the closing eight minutes at Twickenham on Saturday and finish their year with a puzzling 25-all draw.
Before he flew home from London to the New Zealand summer, Marshall made a guest appearance on the latest episode of the Evening Standard Rugby Podcast with Lawrence Dallaglio and he highlight a glaring shortcoming in the current approach of the All Blacks under Foster.
Given the pattern of results in this year’s matches between the northern and southern hemisphere countries, ex-England back-rower Dallaglio suggested: “The game has changed in terms of the laws and it has brought the hemispheres closer than it ever had before.”
This was an opinion that ex-All Blacks scrum-half Marshall agreed with. “I totally agree, and we are not seeing any more huge amounts of counterattack rugby. That is where the All Blacks were always so lethal – when the teams aimlessly gave them the ball back.
“You had a guy like Richie McCaw out there when you had a little more freedom at the breakdown, more freedom than you have got now particularly defensively to turn that ball over and catch the opposition out. That is where the All Blacks really kicked into action and caught teams on the hop because of their counterattack. You don’t see them doing that as much now. They are a team much more orientated in playing territory.
“I certainly feel and agree that the top two teams in the world at the moment are France and Ireland and it’s pretty hard to separate both of them. They have got quality across the park. Where we [New Zealand] have not adapted is we have not realized the game is now all about big, strong ball carriers, men that are hard to move away from the breakdown and we haven’t adjusted to that.
“We are still a little light in those areas. I look at the back row of Ireland and France in particular, they are just big, men men. The Argentinians, they are just big brutes.
“Big ball runners like that command two tacklers usually which leaves you defensively short and we haven’t got that type of bally carrier at the moment so, in a nutshell, I agree with you, the laws have slightly changed which is allowing teams to be a little less mobile but bigger and tougher, and then secondly it is because I think the All Blacks have fallen away.”
Having watched the All Blacks over the course of 2022 in his professional capacity as a rugby media pundit, the inconsistencies that Marshall witnessed in the levels of performance from Foster’s team left him frustrated.
“The problem is they are still on a roller coaster, their fluctuations are still very un-All Black like. You usually get a standard of where the All Blacks sit. It may drop away a little bit or sometimes they might have an outstanding performance, but at the moment they are doing big chunks in performance and having drifts in games like they did over ten minutes at the weekend. It is just very unusual for an All Blacks side to do that.
“Here is an easy way to describe it: against South Africa at Ellis Park in the second Test after being resoundingly beaten in the first, they were completely outstanding. They moved the ball over the 100 meters of the field, they used the full width and they ran South Africa off their feet. South Africa were replacing forwards just before half-time.
“What was in my mind was, ‘Now we’re right, now this is in our DNA, this is in our blood, this is how we are supposed to play’. So I really thought we were starting to right the way we had been performing. Then they went to Christchurch two weeks later, played Argentina and went into a negative mindset, a kicking-oriented game, and got beaten.
“That’s just really weird to me that they would have one game plan that is so All Blacks-like and then play Argentina and be scared to play and kick the ball away and ultimately got beaten, So that is a real worry of where they sit .”
- Click here to listen to the Justin Marshall interview with Lawrence Dallaglio