Yes there will be changes but maybe not quite the breadth of changes many might be expecting. Whenever the All Blacks lose, and yes the draw last Sunday felt more like a loss than a win, the team will always be their own harshest critics. Those same players also, traditionally, get given the immediate opportunity to put things right.
Which is why I’m not predicting many actual changes in the playing XV named tomorrow. There are no excuses for almost losing to Ozzie last weekend. When Aaron Smith describes his own effort as erratic and inaccurate” and Dane Coles says the pack was “parking up and having a holiday at ruck time” then not a lot needs to be added from us on the outside looking in. Clearly the team knows their performance was nowhere near good enough.
In AB rugby you don’t get time to build, breathe and bed yourself in. Just like any elite team in world sport you’re expected to play not just well but very well right from the off. Le Bron didn’t give his Lakers wider squad time to adjust to the playoffs. He was there to win a World Championship which means he needed you at your best from the first tip-off.
And if you can’t deliver on that then expect little sympathy and maybe not even another opportunity. Selection alone means you’re expected to be confident, assertive, combative, productive and ruthless. Those are the demands and those who play fully understand that.
When the ABs misfire it’s always easy to highlight individuals and their mistakes but for mine that average effort in Wellington reflects on the entire 23. So rather than axe certain players I’d like to first see how they collectively respond to this adversity and whether the same side is in fact capable of playing to the potential they so obviously have - with one or two minor tweaks of course!
If Beauden Barrett remains unavailable then his brother Jordie has to start at fullback. I’d also rejig the midfield with Leinert-Brown to partner Reiko this week, start Caleb Clarke and play McKenzie off the bench. The rest can stay as they are. For now. Because one test match does not define a season, a career or a coach.
We fans have to accept two things. First that we are no longer the world’s best team and second that we are in a process of semi-rebuilding. It’s what naturally happens now after every RWC cycle and this year’s cobbled together schedule will ultimately give us nothing but a gauge as to where we’re at and what areas we need to radically improve.
So I won’t be expecting many changes tomorrow. What I will expect on Sunday though is a change in attitude, application and outcome.
As Dane Coles also said this week, “the beauty of rugby is you get a chance to fix it and put it right”. Those players who didn’t get the job done in Wellington have to be given that chance, while also knowing that, for some, another letdown might also be their last - chance that is.