Beauden Barrett and the All Blacks are expecting an improved Ireland in the second test. Photo / Photosport
Any notion of the All Blacks having their heads in the clouds after the commanding first test victory were quickly dismissed as Beauden Barrett underlined expectations for an immediate Irish response in Dunedin.
scoreline suggests the All Blacks belted Ireland from touchline to post at Eden Park when closer analysis says otherwise. So, too, did the All Blacks internal review reveal ample room for improvement – specifically in their defense and breakdown work.
“We want to take our game to another level,” Barrett said in Dunedin on Monday. “We’ve already identified many areas to get better and that’s encouraging.”
Ireland were blown away in the second quarter of the first half as the All Blacks piled on tires to Sevu Reece, Quinn Tupaea and Ardie Savea to lead 28-5 at the break.
Outside that window, though, Ireland enjoyed success regularly breaking the All Blacks front-line defense and the visitors largely controlled possession to hammer away at the line for long periods, particularly in the second half.
Despite conceding six tries Ireland coach Andy Farrell was far from despondent post-match, believing the template was there for his team to build on.
Barrett and the All Blacks are likewise, weary that Ireland will be a desperate beast in the second test.
“I’d expect them to bounce back they’re such a proud side,” Barrett said. “They’ll raise their intent because it’s do-or-die, the series is on the line this weekend. We know they’re coming so we need to rise as well. We’re getting prepared for another brutal test. We know they’re going to respond and so do we. We need to be better too.”
The All Blacks have been boosted by Crusaders trio David Havili, Jack Goodhue and Will Jordan returning to camp following their positive Covid tests last week which could lead to subtle backline changes. Coaches Ian Foster, John Plumtree and Scott McLeod are also back on deck, with scrum coach Greg Feek the only remaining absentee.
“It’s great to see them back it was a tough week for those individuals but we’re almost back to full strength,” Barrett said. “It just means we can have a good training week. Last week we were a little bit down on numbers and had to bring people in. It brings more experience having Jack, Dave and Will back in the squad. It’s competitive and everyone is keen to get their opportunity.”
Losing veteran playmaker Jonathan Sexton to a head knock in the 30th minute at Eden Park was a major blow for Ireland. Farrell indicated Sexton passed his post-match HIA test and could, therefore, receive the all clear to return this week.
Whether it’s Sexton or Joey Carbery running the cutter, the All Blacks have identified the need to apply more defensive line speed to cut down Ireland’s time and space on the ball.
“That comes down to the breakdown and our defence,” Barrett said. “We’ve seen there’s areas we need to work on with our defense – putting them under more pressure. That will not give him [Sexton] the dinner suit he likes to play in. It’s on us to improve this weekend in that area and there’s also a lot of other areas we’re looking to be better in.
“On the back of last year we knew we had to improve. Often it wasn’t in the structural or tactical areas it was more in the skill sets. We had a good opportunity in our camps to improve and work on those. It’s a daily challenge to get better. That challenge has certainly been set by the coaches and we have some clear goals we want to achieve.”
Barrett is relishing the prospect of playing Ireland under the roof in conditions that should suit the All Blacks’ intent to embrace pace and tempo but he’s also demanding a more clinical performance as they seek to add further attacking tweaks.
“There were some missed opportunities out there on the weekend although it was our first go at it, we’d like to improve a lot.
“We wanted to go in feeling clear in our strategy and game so we can simply play. You can overdo it in terms of detail early on coming in from Super Rugby international footy with new combinations. We tried to keep it reasonably simple. We can build on that this week and combinations may continue to grow, depending on selections. We’d expect us to be a bit sharper in certain areas.”