Rugby World Cup 2023: Scott Barrett, All Blacks forwards go back to the drawing board
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“We weren’t up to the mark.” With that declaration, bruising lock, and occasional blindside flanker, Scott Barrett set the tone for week two of the Rugby World Cup for an All Blacks team with a lot to put right, and not much in the way of opposition in sight to do it against. 

Ian Foster’s freefalling All Blacks have now suffered back-to-back record defeats, after they followed their 35-7 thumping by the Boks at Twickenham (their largest ever test loss) with a 27-13 setback against France in the World Cup opener last Saturday (NZT) – their heaviest in RWC history and first ever reversal in pool play.

The former didn’t mean a heck of a lot, other than that many believe it was a clear indicator that these are not propitious times for the New Zealanders on the international stage. But the latter has plenty of repercussions.

The All Blacks must now tuck away their three remaining pool games, starting with Namibia early Saturday (NZT) in Toulouse, and followed a fortnight later by the improving Italians, lest they create another piece of unwanted history and exit at the first hurdle for the first time at a RWC.

That should not happen. Namibia lost their opener 52-8 to the Italians so should be little more than a speed bump for the bristling All Blacks who are likely to introduce a few fresh faces as they spread the load and give some fringe types a crack. The likes of Damian McKenzie, David Havili, Cam Roigard, Tamaiti Williams and Dane Coles will undoubtedly be keen to see action of some kind.

And Italy and Uruguay should also be dispatched comfortably by an All Blacks side operating anywhere near peak efficiency. (Even then, they’re set for the most brutal of quarterfinals against the winner of the pool including South Africa and Ireland.)

The problem is after Namibia this week there are 14 full days until the showdown against regular RWC opponents Italy who appear a vastly improved outfit on previous iterations the New Zealanders have faced at World Cups.

What Foster and his coaches are going to have to balance is the desire to dig deep in the squad with the need to let the top lineup develop some form, rhythm and confidence. Maybe a free-flowing romp against the Namibians might be just what the doctor ordered for a few of his key players. Rest them now, and it will be three weeks between outings.

Barrett, who confirmed a hand injury picked up against France was not serious, admitted the opening defeat had given the team plenty to ponder, though stopped well short of putting it in the category of the Boks dismantling in which he was red-carded.

“It was everything we expected around the first game – a tough test match against the host nation. We weren’t quite up to the mark on the night, and a few areas let us down. We’ve taken some strong [lessons] and the group is hungry to keep building in this competition.”

When asked by Stuff if the New Zealand forwards needed to answer the bell after those consecutive defeats, Barrett brokered little argument: “I don’t think we’re lacking any determination. There’s plenty of hunger and drive in the group. Twickenham hurt. We weren’t up to the mark there. We were well off physically, and were outpowered. On Friday night, particularly around the scrums, there were a few little games being played. We’ve got to adapt and keep moving forward.”

Part of the adaptability required, adds Barrett, comes in how they handle the heat factor, which is high now but will diminish significantly as the Cup unfolds.

“It’s a factor with the water breaks,” he said after running for 34 metres, beating 5 defenders and making 11 of 12 attempted tackles against the French. “They stop the flow of the game a wee bit. But they're probably needed from a welfare perspective.

"You’ve got to adapt to the conditions, whatever they are. If it's cooler in the coming weeks, we'll just get on with it and our tactics might change. You can't make excuses if it's hot, or it's wet, or it's cold. You just roll your sleeves up, and that's what we’re going to do.”

As for Namibia, 0-23 in RWC outings and pumped 71-9 when they last met the All Blacks in 2019, Barrett indicated the proverbial blinkers were affixed.

“We've talked about respecting each team we play and we'll do that through our preparation. I didn't play against them in 2019, but the boys who did said that it's going to be physical and confrontational, so that's how we're preparing.”

Speaking of physical and confrontational, Barrett was also happy to welcome Crusaders team-mate Ethan Blackadder on board for the remainder of the tournament.

“Ethan will step in and bring plenty of energy and an engine that just keeps chugging – like a diesel. That's what he brings, and the boys love what he does.”

Every little bit is going to count from here on in.