This article originally appeared on Stuff and is reproduced with permission
Sir Buck Shelford may have been more forgiving if the All Blacks had unloaded their best shots during the 23-12 defeat to Ireland last weekend.
Instead, ex-All Blacks captain Shelford was left perplexed and frustrated as he reflected on Ireland beating the All Blacks on New Zealand soil for the first time, to level the series 1-1 in Dunedin.
Now, as the teams prepare for the decider in Wellington on Saturday night, Shelford hopes the error-prone All Blacks can rectify the issues which plagued them throughout the second Test at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
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“We didn’t lose by much, but it was the way we lost,” Shelford said. “The turnover rate, the stupid penalties we gave away. Our discipline was terrible.”
Although each team was penalized 14 times, and Irish lock James Ryan was yellow carded, the All Blacks also lost replacement prop Angus Ta’avao with a red card and Leicester Fainga’anuku and Ofa Tuungafasi with yellows in the first half.
Given they thumped Ireland 42-19 in the first Test in Auckland, the All Blacks were favored to take a sledgehammer to the tourists under the roof in Dunedin. The opposite happened, as they slipped into reverse gear.
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Now the All Blacks, who have slipped to No.4 in the world rankings, are under pressure to avoid their fourth loss in five Tests.
When Shelford captained the All Blacks between late 1987 and mid-1990, he never experienced a defeat. He’s concerned the current team hasn’t evolved under coach Ian Foster, and was alarmed by the mistakes in Dunedin.
“We haven’t upped our game, in terms of our backs’ attack,” Shelford noted. “Our catching and passing, at times, is horrific. For guys of this calibre, I just think it’s abysmal.”
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Foster was also critical of his players after the defeat, labeling the slow start “substandard” and the sloppy execution “unacceptable”.
Following an extensive review of the 2021 season, which ended on a bum note when the All Blacks lost to France and Ireland, Foster added skills coach Andrew Strawbridge and ex-All Blacks forwards coach Mike Cron to his staff. Former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will replace Grant Fox as an independent selector after the Ireland series.
Shelford is confident the All Blacks have the right players to beat Ireland but believes the backline is standing too flat, and may be better served by following Ireland’s tactic of releasing the ball before they get into the tackle zone.
With the All Blacks seeking contact before going to ground to recycle the ball, Shelford says the officials need to be aware of Ireland’s subtle tricks at the breakdown.
“They (Ireland) are playing quite smart. When they go in for the tackle they always roll out our side of the ruck, trying to slow the ball down.
“We need to tell the referee ‘they are rolling out on our side all the time’.”
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Having rectified their set-piece issues, Ireland repeatedly heaped pressure on the All Blacks’ ball carriers; Shelford suggests one way to counter that was to get tight forwards to carry more, to smash over the gain line and then use the smaller backs to explore the space around the blindside.
Shelford would also like to see lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who was on the bench in Dunedin, get more minutes so he could use his bulk and power to soften-up Ireland’s defensive line.
A defeat in this Test would result in an already anxious rugby public further questioning whether Foster, who has been contracted by NZ Rugby through to the 2023 World Cup in France, is the right man to be coach.
“It is a hell of a job, but he put his name forward for it,” Shelford stated.
“One of the things I thought when Mr Foster got the job was ‘what are we going to see that we haven’t seen before?’
“And, to me, not a lot has changed.”
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