Scrum-half Smith feels they were bit ‘sluggish’ in second half
Auckland: The All Blacks gave themselves a pass mark but said there was still a lot to work on as they reflected on Sunday on their record 57-0 demolition of South Africa.
The eight-try victory in Auckland, a marriage of a scintillating attack and ruthless defence, kept the unbeaten New Zealanders in line to retain the Rugby Championship with only two matches remaining.
After taking a while to settle into the game and find their rhythm, the All Blacks produced their best display of the year, eliminating many of the errors that have littered their previous performances.
But scrum-half Aaron Smith said there were signs it was not the complete performance the All Blacks were searching for.
“We came out in the first 10 in that second half and we were average and a bit sluggish,” he said.
“We have still got improvements. Nehe (Milner-Skudder) scored that try in the corner and we walked back and you always know that it’s not a good feeling when you’re not trying to get back (quickly).
“It’s really hard to do when you’re up by a good score, to stay in that zone, but if we want to see where we can go we’ve got to stay in that zone for 80 minutes.”
The result exposed the huge gulf between the world No. 1 All Blacks and the No. 3 Springboks, but a year out from facing second-ranked England at Twickenham and two years from the next World Cup, coach Steve Hansen was not getting carried away.
“We came in pretty clear about how we wanted to play and what we wanted to achieve and a lot of those things came off,” he said.
“We started a bit jittery. There was a lot of dropped ball or bobble ball, but once we got in to the rhythm of the game I thought we played probably as good as we’ve played for a long time.”
Assistant coach Ian Foster, widely tipped to take the top job when Hansen steps down after the 2019 World Cup in Japan, noted lapses that crept in once the result was beyond doubt.
“We still weren’t perfect. There were parts of that second-half when we had a few opportunities and we struggled a little bit. But, overall we got a lot more right than wrong,” he said.
It was the second time in consecutive Tests that the All Blacks have put more than 50 points past the Springboks following their 57-15 victory last year.
They also bettered the previous 53-3 record loss the South Africans suffered against England in 2002.
This year, the All Blacks have played eight Tests for six wins, a draw and a loss but their performances have been perplexing.
The high-octane game Hansen is trying to perfect is mesmerising when it comes off, as it did against the Springboks and for the first 50 minutes of their opening Rugby Championship Test against Australia.
But at other times the pace and intensity has been marred by inaccuracy.
Defence coach Wayne Smith, in his sign-off Test in New Zealand before he steps away from the All Blacks at the end of the championship, rated it a special performance.
“It’s been a while coming this year,” he said. “It’s sort of a dream performance to finish on.
“I think we knew there was going to be a wholehearted performance, that there was going to be something pretty good. We were confident of that. But that was special.”