All Blacks bask after annus mirabilis

Sun, 27 Nov 2016 10:44

REACTION: Even the most cynical of observer would have bet on a chink appearing in the armour after New Zealand lost the likes of talismanic captain Richie McCaw and goal-kicking playmaker par excellence Dan Carter.

No such luck as Beauden Barrett stepped into Carter's shoes in a blink and McCaw's absence was mitigated by the presence of Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino, with a number of younger forwards quickly bloodied around the veteran back row forwards.

After winning a second successive World Cup in October last year, the All Blacks embarked on a winning run of 18 matches, a streak broken when they went down 29-40 to Ireland in Chicago earlier this month.

It proved to be their sole loss in the calendar year. Thirteen victories were notched up in total and the Rugby Championship title claimed with two rounds to play.

The final win of the year came on Saturday, a 24-19 victory over a feisty France team that threw everything at New Zealand without really ever threatening to come close to an upset. But a marked improvement from the 62-13 World Cup quarterfinal mauling the Tricolors received last year.

"It was a great Test match and both teams contributed to the crowd enjoying it. It felt like the old French rugby team. They wanted to run the ball at every opportunity. They should be very happy with the progress they're making but at the same time I'm also very happy with our own team.

"We lost over 800 caps and some real legends of the game after the World Cup. To come out and do what we've done this year, lose just the one match, play some good rugby at times, to stand up under pressure late in the season when fatigue is a big factor, I'm very proud of our team.

"This time of year is a tough time - we went around the world twice in nine weeks, nine time changes in seven games, so the boys did well," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.

While the All Blacks go on a well-deserved holiday, Hansen had a warning for potential rivals.

"We're a young group. There are 20 players who weren't at last year's World Cup. There are 11 new All Blacks and not too many of them have played against northern hemisphere teams. Every opportunity we've had, we've used the young guys and tried to build them.

"We'll go away and enjoy the break and come back a better team for these four weeks," he added.

Agence France-Presse