Dropping Sam Cane was a major mistake
As the dust finally settles after a tumultuous Rugby World Cup the analysis of the failed All Blacks campaign is well underway.
It amazes me there are fans out there who say it is good for the game that the All Blacks fell down against England in the semi-final to allow another nation the chance to win the Webb Ellis Cup.
I am certainly not one of them. I am old enough to have endured the run of failed World Cup campaigns in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007 and found no solace in watching captains of other teams hoist the little golden trophy aloft.
The biggest catastrophe against England was dropping Bay of Plenty openside flanker Sam Cane to the bench. He is without question our most destructive defender and a natural leader.
In the opening minutes England exploited the defensive frailty and inexperience playing together of Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea to smash open the game. The All Blacks never recovered.
Sam and Ardie had performed in tandem so well this year that it was vital to keep that partnership going against the physical bombardment to come from England.
Sam is the sort of player every coach would die for. Like Richie McCaw before him he holds the defensive line together and backs wish they had not run through his zone.
So for the sake of improving lineout options the best tackler was benched. Well the lineout did not improve and Scott Barrett was replaced at halftime by Sam as Hansen and co realised their huge mistake. Too little, too late.
The other contentious decision for me was to replace Ben Smith with Jordie Barrett on the bench. Without Ben’s calmness and wealth of experience there was no alternative to the panic mode out on the field trying to chase down a rampant England.
Selecting three Barrett brothers was flawed. Beauden is a great player and starts every game for me, Scott is a top class lock but not a blindside flanker, while Jordie was possibly lucky to make the squad for Japan.
A World Cup semi-final against an uncompromising team like England needed our hardest defenders and most fearless players with years of experience to mentally and physically match them.
This Rugby World Cup failure came down to selecting players who lacked those essential qualities. Four more years boys.
If not the All Blacks, I was delighted South Africa under the captaincy of the inspiring Siya Kolisi won the final because of the positive impact it will have on the Rainbow Nation. Well done indeed.