All Blacks won’t regain No 1 spot until ruthless final-quarter edge returns

The All Blacks will struggle to regain the top spot in rugby until they regain their previous ruthless edge in the final quarter of matches.

In the recent Rugby World Cup, they faced three major games against Ireland, France, and South Africa, during which they only managed to score a mere three points in the final 15 minutes.

This tally comprised a single penalty by Jordie Barrett against Ireland in the 69th minute. It became painfully clear after their 12-11 loss to South Africa that such a statistic is insufficient to become world champions.

The All Blacks’ historical strength used to be their ability to finish strongly in the final quarter, but that has not been the case in recent Rugby World Cup events.

In the final quarter of these significant matches, they essentially drew with South Africa (0-0), but they lost 11-0 to France and 7-3 to Ireland. This situation bears some resemblance to their 25-25 draw against England at Twickenham the previous November and the 25-18 loss to Argentina in Christchurch the year before.

Remarkably, in these five tests, the All Blacks failed to score a single final-quarter try across 100 minutes of play. While disciplinary issues have clearly impacted their performance, their lack of a killer instinct in the last 20 minutes has become a major concern, particularly for incoming coach Scott Robertson.

Identifying a single reason for their struggles in the final quarters of important matches is challenging, as the foundation is generally laid by the team’s forwards.

Robertson will inherit a group of young props who are among the best in the world for their age profile, a highly exceptional unit that may well win a Rugby World Cup in their careers. Nonetheless, the All Blacks have lost their ability to accelerate in the final quarter, and Robertson will need to carefully consider the composition and utilization of his substitutes.

New Zealand possesses numerous explosive players, as evident in this Rugby World Cup, despite ongoing criticisms of Super Rugby Pacific. When the All Blacks are in top form, they can put points on the board in a manner that no other team can match.

The All Blacks’ current challenge is to reconfigure their team effectively, placing the right pieces in the puzzle. At present, it’s South Africa who have mastered the art of closing out significant games.

Even when reduced to 14 men for the final 10 minutes due to a yellow card for Cheslin Kolbe, South Africa dominated territory by 74% to 26% during that period. They won the last 20 minutes of the quarterfinal against France 10-3 and the same period 10-0 against England in the semifinal.

This ability to control the final stages of matches is the key ingredient for winning Rugby World Cups, and it’s something the All Blacks currently lack.

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