How All Blacks handed the keys to Generation Y

Ireland are about to find out there is something radically different about the All Blacks they will face in today's World Cup quarter-final compared with the team they played last November.

How All Blacks handed the keys to Generation Y

Ireland are about to find out there is something radically different about the All Blacks they will face in today's World Cup quarter-final compared with the team they played last November.

The technical types will be able to bang on about the different attacking system the All Blacks will be employing as a result of using dual play-makers Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett.

They could also make a point about this game being on neutral territory as opposed to the near-feral atmosphere of the Aviva Stadium and that the timing is such that both sets of players are at their peak as opposed to one being at the end of a long and draining season.

But while all this is undoubtedly true, it doesn't get to the heart of the real difference between the All Blacks now and 11 months ago.

What's changed is that the All Blacks have handed the keys to Generation Y and given them the licence to drive the attack.

It's almost unprecedented in All Blacks history for so many new, youthful and inexperienced players to be trusted on this scale. Certainly not at a World Cup.

The All Blacks' last two World Cup titles were built on experience. They deliberately steered away from the young and vibrant and picked the proven. Both titles were won by old dogs of war: men such as Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Jerome Kaino and, of course, Richie McCaw made the big plays and the big decisions in both 2011 and 2015.

The All Blacks were a team defined by those senior leaders – they were icons of the game and all had been around for long enough to have seen just about everything test rugby could throw at them.

They relied on this enormous bank of experience and would reach into the database they had collectively accumulated to work out the best path to success.

But this All Blacks team in Japan is running on something else. It is fuelled by a sense of adventure and lack of fear that exists largely because the key men are so young and inexperienced, they have nothing in the data bank to ward them off following their instincts.

Three of the four props in the matchday 23 have collectively fewer caps than Owen Franks – the veteran tight-head surprisingly dropped from the squad on the eve of the World Cup.

Mo'unga, for all his class and composure, only won his first cap in June last year and will be making just his eighth start in the quarter-final.

Jack Goodhue is another whose first cap came in June last year, while George Bridge on the left wing played against Japan in November but wasn't taken to Europe because he was still some way down the pecking order.

And then there is Sevu Reece, who in a parallel universe wouldn't have been in Tokyo this weekend, but instead, unbelievably, would have been turning out for Connacht.

His life in the last 12 months makes virtually no sense as he's gone from having no contract in January to being thrown a Super Rugby lifeline by the Crusaders, to starting in a World Cup quarter-final as one of the hottest properties in world rugby.

It is incredible that Goodhue and his 24-year-old midfield partner Anton Lienert-Brown have displaced the senior duo of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty and that Bridge and Reece are keeping Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane out of the starting team, while 22-year-old Jordie Barrett is also keeping Smith off the bench.

And they are all involved because they take risks. They trust their vast array of skills and they have made the All Blacks an infinitely better attacking machine than they were in Dublin.

A few Kiwi hearts will be in their mouths on Saturday but that's the way this side plays now – on the edge, fearless and ready to try anything.

The incredible part is that to get to this point the All Blacks have been through a radical culture change behind the scenes where they have done away with the old school culture of making it tough for new players to settle and instead have created a new world where everyone is treated the same whether they have one cap or 100.

This hasn't been an organic movement. Instead it has been deliberately driven by captain Kieran Read who is of the view that supporting new players, embracing them and giving them the confidence to go out and perform at their best is a better idea than leaving them in the dark to work out how to handle test rugby for themselves.

In previous regimes new All Blacks came into the squad and were pretty much ignored, told to stay quiet and only pipe up once they had earned a bit of respect on the field.

But this team is different as Read has made sure the new boys are given the authority to speak and contribute from day one and picked somewhat astutely that a generation used to instant gratification won't understand the notion of paying their dues.

And it has revolutionised the All Blacks as the energy and confidence exuding from them this week is built on the sense that their Generation Y influence is capable of taking them anywhere they want to go.

What they lack in caps they make up for in belief and far from being overawed or indeed over confident, the All Blacks young brigade this week all fronted the media with such aplomb that it gave a further insight into the sorts of relaxed but focused characters they are.

Asked what influence Ronan O'Gara, who spent two years as assistant coach at the Crusaders, had on shaping his career, Mo'unga replied: “ROG has been awesome. He’s still very hard to understand, so I take very little from our conversations.” With one gag, Mo'unga showed he is composed, confident, not overly serious but certain enough in who he is to trust his timing and delivery.

Bridge talked like an old pro and Goodhue, who is so relaxed on the field that others worry he is having a medical event, gave not one hint of nervousness 24 hours before kick-off.

Whatever the All Blacks were last November they are not that team now.

RWC Podcast: Buying into the confidence in the air around Irish camp

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox