NEW PLYMOUTH – The All Blacks may have made a perfect start to the Rugby Championship, but they have only briefly looked like world champions.
This has left coach Steve Hansen unimpressed as they prepare to face arch-rivals South Africa next weekend.
After struggling to put away Argentina on Saturday, they will find the Springboks better equipped to cash in on an extraordinary high error rate.
The Springboks are also unbeaten, although after being held to a 23-23 draw against Australia in Perth on Saturday, they lie second at the halfway stage of the competition behind the All Blacks who have won all three of their matches.
Add a drawn series against the British and Irish Lions into the mix, and the result is an All Blacks side that have slipped too easily between the sublime and the ridiculous this year.
After struggling for 50 minutes to get on top of Argentina in New Plymouth, before winning 39-22, Hansen was blunt in his assessment.
“We’ve just got to get better,” he said when questioned about the high error rate their high-paced game produces.
“Obviously you don’t want the errors to keep growing.”
The All Blacks outscored Los Pumas six tries to one, but with three of the tries coming in a late 24-point burst after they trailed 22-15 with 30 minutes remaining.
There is no doubting the All Blacks’ ability to score when their high-risk, high-tempo approach pays off as evidenced by their 19 tries so far in their three Rugby Championship matches.
By comparison, the Wallabies and Springboks have 11 each and Los Pumas five.
The All Blacks were at their best in the first 50 minutes of the opening championship match against Australia when they piled on 54 points in what Hansen described as “probably as good rugby as you will see”.
But the remainder of that match was “ugly”, in Hansen’s view, and little has changed since with the All Blacks guilty of squandering scoring opportunities tries with their rushed approach.
After coming from behind to beat Argentina, Hansen tried to put a positive spin on the outcome.
“We had moments where we really had to battle and think our way through some stuff that didn’t come easy for us.
“But to go in at halftime down and come back out and win the game, (I’m) pretty happy,” he said, before acknowledging all was not well.
“We’ve come off a great year last year, and we’ve come into this year and it’s not flowing as easy for us and we’re having to work at it, and it’s probably what we need.
“Teams are putting lot more pressure on us with line-speed, and how we’re dealing with that at times hasn’t been that great.”
Between winning the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, the All Blacks lost only three of 54 matches, often winning in the closing minutes with their philosophy that patience would eventually produce opportunities.
But that has since been replaced with a need to force the pace – at times recklessly – from the start, and Hansen does not appear keen to alter that.
“We’re trying to play this brand of rugby that everyone wants us to play, but sometimes that’s going to force errors and we’ve just got to get better at it,” he said.
The Argentina game proved costly for the All Blacks, with prop Joe Moody dislocating a shoulder and unlikely to play again this season.