All Blacks: Beware of England and Wales, warns Fitzpatrick

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The Independent Online

Wales and England will fancy their chances of beating the All Blacks on their spring tour to the Northern Hemisphere, former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick has warned.

Fitzpatrick delivered a sobering summary of the New Zealanders' Tri-Nations season, counselling against drawing too many conclusions from the 33-6 hammering of the Wallabies in Wellington at the weekend.

"Graham Henry will be over the moon at the outcome and very relieved," he said. "But I'm sure at the back of their minds they will realise that Australia did not play well.

"For me, a better reflection of play in the All Blacks' season was their performance against South Africa [in which they played three and lost three].

"Martin Johnson and Warren Gatland will be rubbing their hands a bit in terms of trying to roll the All Blacks. This is an important tour for the All Blacks in terms of going forward to the World Cup.

"Against Australia, I thought Adam Thomson played very well and [Isaia] Toeava, in whom Graham Henry has invested so much time, looked as though that time may at last be beginning to bear fruit."

Fitzpatrick, a fierce critic of the All Blacks' performance against the South Africans seven days earlier, in which he used words like "criminal" and "disgraceful", wanted the top All Blacks to return at once to Air New Zealand Cup rugby.

"The All Blacks can go away now with a bit of confidence going forward. But in the meantime, I hope they will play week by week in the Air NZ Cup, front up, before the tour to the Northern Hemisphere, which will be a tough one."

But Fitzpatrick acknowledged the many improvements in the All Blacks' game in Wellington.

"I thought they played very well. Graham Henry said the whole way through we need to maintain possession and execute our game plan. I thought they did that very well. They put a lot of pressure on Australia and cancelled them out of the game basically.

"They did so many things right and probably most crucial of all, which showed the importance of it, was the lineout. Especially in the second half, they started to dominate the lineout on their own ball and, more importantly, nicked a couple of Australian lineout throws. That put the Australian lineout under pressure, something they have not been doing, especially against South Africa."

* From The New Zealand Herald