All Blacks will only get better - Sean Fitzpatrick
January 17, 2014
Sean Fitzpatrick is pleased by the way in which New Zealand have developed "back-up" players © Getty Images
New Zealand's All Blacks are still not the finished article, but Sean Fitzpatrick says they are nevertheless "quite outstanding" and will continue to be the testing material for their rivals because of the way they eased new blood into the squad during their undefeated 2013 season.
Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Tom Taylor had stepped up to the plate in replacing Dan Carter, and that would become even more important this year as Carter takes his sabbatical on the road towards Rugby World Cup 2015 in England, Fitzpatrick said on the International Rugby Board's Total Rugby Radio show.
Sam Cane and Ardie Savea in the forwards had also stepped up to show there is life in the No.7 jumper even if Richie McCaw is absent, rewarding New Zealand Rugby for its reinvestment into the lower levels of the game. The ITM Cup competition was better in 2013, Fitzpatrick said, and the Super Rugby sides in New Zealand were now even and producing a succession of high-quality players for international contention.
"Steve Hansen said they wanted to be 15% better than what they were," Fitzpatrick said. "And when you think of where they've come from since 2011, they've been quite outstanding in terms of what they've achieved on and off the field.
"They're a highly motivated group of individuals, they're coached really well, and I think that's the thing that really stands out for me … the coaching team and how well they've worked."
"They've picked up the baton from Graham Henry, and that would have been ...very similar to [David] Moyes picking up [Sir Alex] Ferguson's baton [at English Premier League club Manchester United] … or not picking it up.
"Hansen's really taken it to a new level really, and got the guys working hard individually.
"I think that's the key: individually their work ethic in terms of the way they analyse opposition, their own standards in terms of their own ability to read games, and then to transmit that from the training field to the game time is quite outstanding."
But the All Blacks, most certainly, could not afford to rest on their laurels, Fitzpatrick said, noting that South Africa, England and Ireland had pushed the New Zealanders to the limit becuase they had played a physical brand of rugby. Fitzpatrick said also that New Zealand's opponents had to be stronger mentally if they were to take the opportunities when they came. Each of New Zealand's opponents in 2013 had opportunities to pressure the All Blacks but "unfortunately, Fitzpatrick said , "a lot of teams don't believe they can beat the All Blacks".
"I didn't think the Irish could actually beat the All Blacks, but then they got to 19-0 and thought, 'My God, maybe we can beat the All Blacks'. But then a 'moment of doubt' entered the Irish hearts and they were undone in the last play."
Fitzpatrick questioned the oft-quoted criticism that New Zealand had been guilty of peaking between World Cups, and then failing at the big event, saying the All Blacks, rather, simply got it wrong at the tournament, especially in 1999 and 2007; at those tournaments, Fitzpatrick said, they lost their focus of concentrating on winning the key games. And he said the current team most certainly had not peaked, noting they had been strengthened by their exposure during the dramatic Tests at Ellis Park and Aviva Stadium to the sort of white-hot atmosphere of a Rugby World Cup.