Rugby World Cup
Bronze All Blacks have work to do
The All Blacks enter the Bronze Age, leaving a new coach obvious work-ons to get them back to a golden era, writes Jim Kayes from Tokyo
Job done - and done in patches of style by the All Blacks.
But there’s plenty of work on the horizon for whoever replaces Steve Hansen as head coach.
The 40-17 win against Wales ensured the All Blacks finished third at the Rugby World Cup and maintained a winning streak against Wales that now includes 31 tests and covers 66 years.
It also allowed Ben Smith to say goodbye from the field, not the stands, and his two tries showed how classy he is.
Kieran Read can retire on a win and after a performance that was so much better than how he played against England.
He must be remembered as a classy No 8, perhaps not our greatest but certainly one of the very best.
Others got to finish the year on a more positive note, too, with Brodie Retallick and Joe Moody much better than they were in the semifinal - though Wales weren’t a patch on England.
The same applies to others, like halfback Aaron Smith and the twin pivots of Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett.
But as impressive as the All Blacks were in a match cruelly, but accurately, dubbed ‘the losers' final’, this World Cup has exposed some significant flaws.
Mobile props are needed, but they still have to be good scrummagers. The All Blacks lack quality depth in this crucial area.
Lock Patrick Tuipulotu and flanker Shannon Frizell have to be persisted with and developed. Both have too much to offer to be allowed to slip in the way Rieko Ioane has. More on him soon.
Frizell’s development is even more important if Ardie Savea is, as he should be, moved permanently to No8.
The All Blacks' next coach will have a superb starting trio of loose forwards but scant established back ups. Akira Ioane, in particular, needs to be the next coach’s project.
It is a collective failing of the Blues, All Blacks and Ioane that he hasn’t been able to push into the reckoning.
It is a similar blight on those same groups that Rieko Ioane has been allowed to slip so far from the lofty heights of 2017 when he was World Rugby’s breakthrough player of the year.
Against Wales he was so out of sorts.
He dropped the ball with his first touch and later saw it pass through his hands to Smith who would’ve scored his third try had it not been ruled out by a forward pass.
And Ioane dropped a sharp pass to end the game when the All Blacks were hot on attack. It wasn’t his night, wasn’t his World Cup and hasn’t been his year.
Somehow he needs to be rehabilitated because he has shown he is a world class wing.
This match also farewelled Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty. They have been high quality All Blacks but there is good depth in the midfield in Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape and possibly Ioane who finished the test at centre.
If the new head coach isn’t Hansen’s assistant, Ian Foster, then he might decide that Beauden Barrett is a first five not a fullback.
Barrett can be superb in both positions but it’s hard not to think his best place is at first five.
Moving him to fullback was in part to ensure the best players were on the field and a reaction to Damian McKenzie’s injury. Coaches have been caught out before by playing players out of their specialist positions simply to get them on the field.
With the benefit of hindsight it may have been better to have Smith at fullback against England with Barrett at 10 and Mo’unga on the bench. But hindsight is always 20/20.
If the new head coach isn't Foster, there are several high quality options.
News that Dave Rennie has been asked to apply is intriguing. He’s certainly worthy of consideration but it has to be wondered if this is New Zealand Rugby’s way of at least slowing the appointment of the next Wallabies coach, a job for which Rennie is considered a front runner.
Jamie Joseph and Scott Robertson could each be the head coach and the pair, in combination with Tony Brown, is hugely attractive.
Neither Robertson nor Joseph seems cut out to be an assistant coach so one will have to cede to the other if they are to work together.
That could be a sticking point but, sometimes, needs must.
Hansen and Wayne Smith were both established head coaches when Graham Henry convinced them to be his assistants, so it can be done.
What Joe Schmidt does could also be hugely influential. Does he come out of his self imposed (and brief) retirement and have a crack himself or offer to assist someone else?
Foster is understood to have approached him but the initial answer was no. That may have changed.
If it has, then a Foster, Schmidt and Brown combination would offer continuity and a new broom.
That would almost certainly be too good for NZR to ignore.