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The areas All Blacks must fix to stop their slide and upset the Springboks

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New Zealand will start Saturday night’s Rugby Championship opener against the Springboks in a rare position: As underdogs.That is no surprise given the All Blacks’ recent 2-1 series loss to Ireland on home soil, a defeat that has put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons in New Zealand rugby circles.

Coach Ian Foster and captain Sam Cane have both been spared the axe, however, and now must set about the task of leading an All Blacks resurgence.But that is easier said than done against the world champion Springboks, who will love nothing more than piling on the pain for their great southern hemisphere rivals.Here are four key areas the All Blacks must improve if they’re to be any chance in Nelspruit on Saturday night.

STUTTERING STARTS

In all three Tests against Ireland last month, the All Blacks conceded the opening points. Keith Earls scored the first try at Eden Park; Andrew Porter in Dunedin, Josh van der Flier in Wellington to leave the All Blacks firmly on the back foot.Only in the first Test did the All Blacks recover from their consistently poor starts. And, worryingly, they got progressively worse, despite identifying the need to rectify this area.

By the third Test defeat in Wellington the All Blacks found themselves trailing 22-3 after a horror first half display. Sure, they mounted a spirited second-half comeback but the hole was too big to overcome.There are no excuses for sleepwalking out of the gate in this fashion, particularly given it was an issue the All Blacks addressed internally on several occasions.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster, speaking after the Wellington loss, struggled to explain the reasoning for his side’s lacklustre starts.

“Not really because we’ve talked a lot about it. For some reason we’re not as calm, particularly defensively. It’s more the defence where we’re getting fidgety early, we’re letting a few holes through. Ireland aren’t a team that you can allow to get behind you. That is when they play an up-tempo game. We’ve done that and it’s hurt us. We’ve worked on it but, again, they got that early momentum.”

The All Blacks cannot afford to repeat their sluggish starts against the Springboks. Playing away from home it is imperative to mitigate the intimidating, hostile atmospheres they will confront in successive tests in Nelspruit and Johannesburg.Gifting the Boks an early lead to fuel the crowd will only amplify the magnitude of the task at hand.

MAUL

Conceding two maul tries in the last Test lost to Ireland was the final straw in regards to John Plumtree’s coaching future with the All Blacks.The struggles of the All Blacks forward pack to lay a consistent platform did not reflect well on Plumtree.

The All Blacks being outplayed at the breakdown, and their failings to repel Ireland’s maul, ultimately cost Plumtree his job as forwards coach.Crusaders guru, and Scott Robertson’s righthand man, Jason Ryan has been swiftly ushered in as Plumtree’s replacement.While Ryan has only been with the team for two weeks, he’s made an immediate impression with his direct honesty and technical nous.

“There’s no hiding from it – the All Blacks pack has been dented, it really has,” Ryan said in his first press appearance since assuming responsibility for the forward pack. “We talked about it in the forwards meeting. We didn’t hide anything. We were really honest. And we have to be. We have to get on with it.”

Whether Ryan has enough time to evoke the major shifts needed from the All Blacks forward pack remains to be seen but ahead of the toughest baptism in Test rugby – confronting the Springboks in South Africa – he is targeting the right areas.

“We’ve got to stop mauls, that’s for sure. There’s a bit of work that needs to go into that and our contact area. We’ve stripped a little bit out and concentrated on a critical few things, getting them to understand what they’re trying to achieve and believe in has been the big one.”

MISFIRING ATTACK

Alongside Plumtree, All Blacks attack coach Brad Mooar was jettisoned following the home series loss to Ireland. Mooar’s dismissal reflects the All Blacks attacking struggles after they managed just two line break assists in their last Test – both coming from Ardie Savea to Will Jordan.

Igniting this once world-leading area of their game is a must for the All Blacks. Their attack has become increasingly predictable, relying far too heavily on individual brilliance such as Jordan and Akira Ioane’s solo efforts in the third Test loss against Ireland rather than any form of creative, constructed potency.

Joe Schmidt’s addition to the coaching team should help. While the former Ireland mentor is not with the All Blacks in South Africa, his role as selector/analyst will see him inject fresh ideas from afar. During his time with Ireland Schmidt’s set-move pet plays were renowned. The All Blacks sure could do with executing one of those this weekend.

In Mooar’s absence, the All Blacks are believed to have approached Blues coach Leon MacDonald to join the team. MacDonald, for now at least, is thought to have rebuffed the offer. That scenario leaves Foster to assume the attacking brief, alongside his head coach duties, as he attempts to save his job in South Africa.

DEFENCE

There are two aspects the All Blacks must fix in their defence. The first is basic one-on-one tackling. Too many times against Ireland, individuals fell off front-on tackles to give up easy metres.

That’s partly due to Ireland’s attacking manipulation – the way Jonathan Sexton controlled their phase play to successfully target the All Blacks props.

The second point is the All Blacks line speed and breakdown work.Former Springboks captain Victor Matfield criticised both aspects this week, noting the All Blacks failed to apply pressure through their defence or slow the breakdown which allowed Ireland to build rapid phases against a scrambling defensive line.

“The New Zealand defence has been one of the slowest in terms of coming off the line,” Matfield said. “That’s what gave the Ireland attack a lot of opportunity over the course of that series.

“New Zealand don’t have the best defence at the moment. The Boks can run at them – and I’m not talking about running from deep within our own half.

“If we get into their half, we can build through our forwards and we can come around the corner. Once we set the platform, we can play a few options. That’s how you can build momentum against them.

“They’re not really stopping the opposition from getting quick ball.”

In some respects the Springboks are easier to plan for than Ireland in that their attack revolves around direct, combative carries; the maul and set-piece. That does not mean it is easy to stop, though.

(ESPN)



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Will Smeed hits the Hundred’s first hundred to get Birmingham Phoenix off the mark

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Will Smeed hit the first hundred in the Hundred as Birmingham Phoenix thrashed reigning champions Southern Brave by 53 runs in a sun-soaked Second City.On NHS Heroes Night at Edgbaston, with NHS workers and support staff invited along as a thank you for their brilliant work, a 14,000 crowd was royally entertained as Smeed socked an unbeaten 101 off 50 balls to lift his side to 176 for 4.Brave replied with a paltry 123 all out as Henry Brookes enjoyed a dream debut on the ground he has always called home. The Edgbaston product took 5 for 25 and two excellent catches in the outfield as Phoenix banked their first victory of the campaign and handed James Vince’s side their first defeat in nine matches.

After Phoenix were put in, they leaned heavily on Smeed after Chris Benjamin, promoted to open, and Moeen Ali each raced to 17 but then perished. Benjamin sent up a skier off Marcus Stoinis before Moeen, having lifted George Garton deep into the crowd at midwicket, chopped James Fuller’s first ball on to his stumps.Smeed galloped to a 25-ball half-century, reached with six over long off off Jake Lintott in a stand of 80 in 44 balls with Liam Livingstone. Livingstone was the top six-hitter in last year’s Hundred, but this time never really hit his stride, scoring just two from his first seven balls and 21 from 20 before lifting Lintott to extra cover.

Into the last ten balls, the big question was whether Smeed could complete his first professional hundred. He needed five runs from the last three, and a four and a two took him to the landmark from 49 balls.Phoenix set about defending their total with an increasingly depleted seam attack, Adam Milne (Achilles) having joined Matt Fisher, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone on the absentee list. But Kane Richardson soon stepped up, bowling Vince with his first ball after the Brave captain had smote Moeen for 16 in three balls in the first set.

Richardson conceded just a single from his first five balls and Phoenix struck again when Stoinis was brilliantly caught by Brookes at short fine leg off Tom Helm.Brookes followed that up in sensational style by striking with his second, tenth, 13th, 15th and 17th balls. Quinton de Kock sent back a return catch, Tim David lifted to deep square leg, Alex Davies was bowled through an attempted scoop and Fuller and Garton were pinned lbw. Who needs Milne, Fisher, Woakes and Stone?

Brookes hadn’t quite finished. At 108 for 7, Brave’s one sliver of remaining hope lay in some pyrotechnics from the big-hitting Ross Whiteley, but when he hoiked Benny Howell to long leg who was waiting underneath the ball? Brookes made no mistake and Phoenix closed out a victory which owed everything to the precocious talent of two young Englishmen.Birmingham Phoenix 176 for 4 (Will Smeed 101*) beat Southern Brave 123 (Alex Davies 33, Henry Brookes 5-25, Kane Richardson 3-19) by 53 runs

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Niroshan Dickwella stars in Greens 8-run win over Reds

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Opening batsman Niroshan Dickwella hammered an unbeaten 76 off 56 balls packed with 8 boundaries as Team Greens defeated Team Reds by 8 runs to register back to back wins in the SLC Skyexchange Invitational T20 League 2022 at the R. Premadasa International Stadium yesterday. Batting first the Greens ran up 161 for 6 off 20 overs with Dickwella dominating the innings. Skipper Dasun Shanaka struck 21 off 12 hitting 3 boundaries before getting run out followed by Dhananjaya de Silva 19 off 12 with 3 boundaries and Ramesh Mendis 11 off 8 (1×4).

The Reds did make a match out of it making 153 for 5 but lacked the final charge to make it despite having enough wickets in hand. Bhanuka Rajapaksa top scored with 34 off 28 with 2 boundaries while skipper Kusal Mendis made 30 off 28 with 3 boundaries and Kamindu Mendis 24 off 22 hitting a six.Upfront opening batsman Lasith Croospulle struck 31 off 24 inclusive of 3 boundaries for the Reds. Dickwella was adjudged Player of the Match.

CHIEF SCORES:

Team Greens 161/6 (20 Overs) (Niroshan Dickwella n.o. 76, Dasun Shanaka 21, Dhananjaya de Silva 19,.Dinesh Chandimal 15, Ramesh Mendis 11, Asitha Fernando 2/32, Sahan Arachchige 1/13, Matheesha Pathirana 1/25, Wanindu Hasaranga 1/30).

Team Reds

153/5 (20 Overs) (Bhanuka Rajapaksa 34, Lasith Croospulle 31, Kusal Mendis 30, Kamindu Mendis 24, Sahan Arachchige n.o. 19, Ramesh Mendis 1/22, Nimesh Vimukthi 1/23, Nuwan Thushara 1/32, Dhananjaya Lakshan 1/39).

(SLC)

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New Zealand juggernaut rolls on with another all-round win

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Odean Smith’s all-round show went in vain as West Indies’ batting once again did not manage to come to the party. Chasing 186, West Indies fell 13 runs short in the opening T20I in Jamaica as New Zealand’s juggernaut rolled on.

New Zealand had their returning skipper Kane Williamson put up a solid 47 off 33, and with Devon Conway’s 29-ball 43, the pair gave New Zealand a solid foundation to pile on the runs. There was a rain interruption in the 12th over for almost two hours, and although New Zealand lost momentum, briefly then, they recovered pretty quickly. Glenn Phillips and Daryl Mitchell got starts but couldn’t convert them. It was, however, Jimmy Neesham’s 15-ball 33 in the end that propelled New Zealand towards the finish they wanted. Odean Smith finished with a career-best 3-32, striking at vital junctures to dismiss New Zealand’s top three; else the West Indies could’ve been chasing a lot more.

Tim Southee struck in the second over to dismiss Kyle Mayers, but West Indies would take heart from Shamarh Brooks’s fighting 42 off 43 while wickets fell at the other end as all of New Zealand’s bowlers cashed in. West Indies were reduced to 114/7 with the inevitable end drawing closer, but resistance came, albeit late, of 50 off 23 balls from the eighth-wicket stand Smith and Romario Shepherd.

Smith smashed four boundaries and a six in his unbeaten 27 off 12, while Shepherd struck three sixes and a four in his 31 not out off 16 balls. New Zealand’s spinners shone through once again on a wicket that assisted them, returning four wickets. Santner was the pick with 3-19 in his four leading New Zealand’s defence, making the most of the knowledge gained from his CPL experience.

Brief scores:New Zealand 185/5 in 20 overs (Kane Williamson 47, Devon Conway 43; Odean Smith 3-32) beat West Indies 172/7 in 20 overs (Shamarh Brooks 42; Mitchell Santner 3-19) by 13 runs.

(Cricbuzz)

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