The All Blacks are preparing to face the world champion Springboks in South Africa, with New Zealand’s head coach Ian Foster under intense pressure to end their dire run of form after four defeats in their last five matches.
AFP looks at five things the All Blacks must fix in their opening Rugby Championship fixture against the Springboks on 7 August in Mbombela.
Stop opposing drives
The All Blacks’ new forwards coach Jason Ryan saw how the home side was out-muscled by the Irish pack in this month’s home series defeat and admitted what he witnessed “dented” New Zealand’s pride.
The Irish scored a key early try off a driving maul in winning the decisive third Test in Wellington, which Ryan says must not be repeated in South Africa.
“We’ve got to stop mauls and also improve our contact area,” Ryan told reporters in Wellington before the All Blacks flew to South Africa.
“The All Black pack has been dented and we talked about it in the forwards meeting, we didn’t hide anything and were really honest, which we have to be.”
Ireland was the first team to score in all three Test matches against New Zealand.
The All Blacks can ill afford another slow start to let the Springboks take an early lead in Mbombela.
Foster admitted it was a point the All Blacks had highlighted internally, yet the mistake was repeated on consecutive Saturdays against the Irish.
“For some reason, we’re not as calm, particularly defensively. It’s more the defence where we’re getting fidgety early, we’re letting a few holes through,” Foster said.
Those holes must be closed in South Africa.
Create more ‘big moments’
Beauden Barrett is a world-class playmaker, but the All Blacks’ star can not carry his side alone and needs support from his teammates in attack.
In Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane and Will Jordan, the All Blacks have players who can crack any defence and create chances, but the team must take them.
“We’re not getting enough big moments right,” Foster said.
“We’ve got a lot of belief in many of the solutions we’ve got but we’ve got to get better at executing them.
“There were a couple of times post line breaks we couldn’t get our support quick enough on the man. Those moments hurt.”
Start winning again
Simply put, Foster’s record of 16 wins, a draw and seven defeats is poor for an All Blacks coach.
His situation could become untenable if his team loses both of their opening Rugby Championship games in South Africa, but he says he has no thoughts of quitting.
“It’s not something I think about. I think about just doing the best I can in my role.”
There is no bigger test in world rugby than facing the Springboks at altitude and Foster is relishing the challenge.
“We’re going into the Rugby Championship to try to win. No All Blacks team wants to go over and [lose]. I think up to 10 guys in the squad haven’t been to South Africa before. It’s a unique situation for this group but, wow, what a great opportunity.”
Learn their lessons
Too many dropped passes, missed tackles and a slow start cost the All Blacks dearly against the Irish.
New Zealand’s captain Sam Cane – who pundits have said should be replaced – insists his team must take those lessons into the Tests against the Springboks.
“The only good thing that can come out of this is we use it as fuel to get better. If we don’t learn, and don’t use the experience of this series, then it’s wasted.
“When we went back-to-back with the good stuff we look flash but too many times we’re not backing those up.”