10 Oct 2015

Doubts over All Blacks' Cup hopes

4:53 pm on 10 October 2015

At half-time of this morning's game against Tonga, I thought there was no way the All Blacks are going to win this World Cup.

By full-time, I thought, 'well, maybe'.

The New Zealanders were put under immense pressure from the Tongans in the first half. They had captain Kieran Read sin-binned for pulling down a maul and were lucky not to concede a penalty try.

Dan Carter in action against Tonga RWC2015

Dan Carter in action against Tonga RWC2015 Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The problem again was that they had trouble holding onto the ball for long periods and the Tongans were able to mount multiple phases on attack.

The All Blacks scored a couple of classy tries off the scraps they had and again had to rely on their solid defence to hold onto their lead.

Sure, all teams playing the All Blacks always start with a hiss and a roar and get all the momentum at the start of a game, but perhaps it's time for the men in black to try and stop that happening.

They certainly didn't help themselves with sloppy takes at kickoffs, handling errors and turnover ball.

It has become apparent in recent years that the All Blacks are able to survive on limited possession, convert their limited opportunities and then try and run away late in the second half.

That all sounds good in theory, but I just get the feeling that their luck might run out eventually.

Dan Carter lines up a conversion as Richie McCaw looks on during the All Blacks v Tonga Rugby World Cup 2015 match. St James' Park in Newcastle. UK. Friday 9 October 2015. Copyright Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz

Dan Carter lines up a conversion against Tonga, as Richie McCaw looks on at Newcastle Photo: Photosport

I suppose it's a good sign that they know how to win, even when they're under the pump, but I also get the feeling that no side fears them anymore.

Is that because the All Blacks aren't as aggressive as they use to be? They seemed to lack that physical aspect of their game early on and perhaps a bit of intensity is missing.

Is that because they have concerns about what the ref might do if they get their technique slightly wrong?

The referees have been severe on any foul play in this tournament, especially charging into rucks without using your arms, or lifting players in a tackle.

A few times now the All Blacks have had to play with just 14 players and that really puts a side under pressure.

While the refs have been vigilant in some aspects of the game, I think they could be tougher in others, especially the offside.

Defensive lines are so flat now that it's almost a miracle if a line is broken and at times the game appears like league.

Perhaps the grubber kick will have to be used more as an attacking weapon.

Talking of kicking, Dan Carter didn't take one penalty attempt at goal against Tonga - that will have to change from now.

So World Cup winners again? Too soon to say. I don't think you can even say that the All Blacks are favourites.

Put them up there with South Africa and Australia, while I'm yet to be convinced about any of the European teams although I'll reserve judgement until after Ireland play France.

Tony Woodcock scores against Tonga RWC2015

Tony Woodcock scores against Tonga Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Sad news that Tony Woodcock's hamstring injury may mean the end of his career.

The 34-year-old has been the rock of the All Black scrum for so long and it'll be disappointing if he isn't able to see the tournament out.