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ALL BLACKS A LEVEL ABOVE

ALL BLACKS A LEVEL ABOVE

ALL BLACKS A LEVEL ABOVE

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The All Blacks have continued to own the Rugby Championship and have the chance now to complete an 8th unbeaten run through the SANZAR competition.

They were already confirmed as 2017 winners before their match in Buenos Aires kicked off, and have now won four of five titles since the new format was introduced, their only blemish being in 2015 when it was a distant third priority behind the World Cup, and even the Bledisloe Cup.

In that time they’ve won 29 games… more than their nearest rivals Australia and South Africa put together, for just two losses and a draw.

Their performance in clinching their fourteenth SANZAR title in Argentina was a little typical of where they’ve been throughout this year's Championship… quite brilliant in patches, very solid in some aspects, but a bit too slap dash in others.

New Zealand fans tend to like their victories achieved in a bit of style, and it's understandable that once again a test will be viewed with a mix of delight and frustration.

Some of the stuff in the first half was quite exhilarating, but way too many passes flew out the back door in the second.

Some context is needed.

This was a team missing as many as ten players through injury, unavailability or being rested.

The Pumas fielded a more experienced team with a pack boasting 100 more caps than their opponents, with Kieran Read and Dane Coles accounting for over three quarters of the caps in the All Blacks.

And at the risk of sounding like I’m making excuses for them, the schedule they are on at the moment is pretty brutal.

The jet lag is severe when you travel east to South America, and a lot of the players I spoke to had really struggled to get a decent nights sleep at all in the lead up to the game.

They’ll go through that again this week in Cape Town. The current schedule seems to be set in stone and every year the All Blacks have to do this debilitating double time switch heading into the test in South Africa, so it’s quite incredible how they’ve only once failed to win both those games.

But even accounting for that, the mistakes made, particularly in terms of the passing, were of an unacceptable level, and something the team will be working on tightening up ahead of this week's game at Newlands.

Behind that high error rate, were a number of positives.

When the passes stuck, it was exhilarating, with some almost ridiculous sleight of hand in the lead up to the first half tries.

After an early error, Damien McKenzie looked a lot more assured in this test and produced more of his trademark touches in this test than any of his earlier efforts.

Kane Hames was another to make a big step forward. His scrummaging was questioned after getting a couple of hits wrong early in the Albany test and he had been guilty of giving away a few penalties, but he had a very strong performance at Velez Sarsfeld and was a key to the All Blacks absolutely bossing the Pumas at scrum time.

And David Havili made an impressive, albeit late introduction and looks a quality international prospect.

The other positive feature was the defence, which stood up strong when the Pumas had a numerical advantage, holding out a series of attacks late in the first half and through much of the second through good organisation and execution. The Pumas tried to break through around the edges and through the middle of the park, but couldn’t, and their only try was awarded in very dubious circumstances.

There was a lot of niggle and the All Blacks discipline will be questioned, but while Kieran Read had to go for the high tackle, the yellow cards handed out to Tomas Lavanini and Matt Todd were very rough… Lavanini got in what looked like a legitimate shot… for once… while Todd had made a great steal at a maul and was in no way guilty as charged.

So now we are in Cape Town and no one is giving the Springboks a chance, which is hard to question on recent form.

However they also seem to be playing some mind games, with coach Alister Coetzee suggesting they have no hope, and assistant Brendan Venter getting into a bit of a war with Bok fans on social media.

So they will claim the underdog tag, draw the wagons around them - play the old laager mentality - surrounded by adversity and hope that this will bring out some defiance and inspiration in their play.

Newlands has been kind to New Zealand over the years… it's one of the worlds great rugby venues with an amazing atmosphere and the prospect of good warm conditions.

There will be plenty of support for the ABs from the Cape Coloured fans who adopted them three or four generations ago. Despite the changes in South African society they still feel neglected, and see their allegiance to the All Blacks as a way of drawing attention to themselves. They just always seem to know where the All Blacks are going to be at any time… a bit like Mel the fan in Flight of the Conchords.

As for prospects for the game… well, I’ll admit to being one of those who didn’t see the washout at Albany coming - a performance that might be best forgotten by the All Blacks as they face a Springbok team that surely cannot be that bad a second time.