New Zealand must ditch the safety-first football and chance their arm if they are to reverse Saturday night’s thrashing at the hands of Australia and win this week’s Four Nations final, according to former stars Stacey Jones and Monty Betham.
The Kiwis face a daunting task when they travel to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane this Saturday night and face an Australian side that is beaming with confidence following their 34-20 win in front of a hostile Eden Park crowd at the weekend. But all is not lost, with Betham insisting the New Zealanders simply needed to learn from their mistakes.
“They were very one-out and one-dimensional in their attack,” Betham said. “When they ran from dummy-half there were no foils, and that’s [usually] the key to starting their sets off.
“I think they need to work around promoting the ball a bit more and have players running off them.
“It was all pretty much one-out, whereas Australia moved the ball very well to the edges.”
Betham said the Kiwis must take a leaf out of their strong finish to the game last Saturday, with Jason Nightingale and Shaun Kenny-Dowall crossing for tries on the back of some typical Benji Marshall brilliance.
“Unfortunately we never saw any of those cross plays, with Benji running across the field, until late in the game – and by then it was too late,” said Betham, who played nine Tests for his country between 2001-06.
“Those are the plays that isolate defenders one on one.
“You need those one-on-one plays to be effective against Australia – otherwise they’ll just swallow you up.
“When Benji started isolating players in the second half we started to look like a threat.”
New Zealand headed into last week’s match as slight favourites following an impressive first-up win against England and a 76-12 thrashing of Papua New Guinea but failed to live up to the hype despite playing in front of a massive home crowd of almost 45,000.
They trailed 18-2 early and 34-10 after 60 minutes before those two late tries added some respectability to the scoreline.
Jones, who played 48 Tests for New Zealand, said he was stunned to see Marshall kick two penalty goals in the first half in a surprisingly introverted display.
“I think they played a little bit within themselves,” he observed. “Those penalty shots at goal… in the past they would have probably tapped the ball and run but within the context of the game they decided adding a couple of points to get them back in the game was the way to go.
“They might think differently next time.
“When they did get opportunities late in the game they showed what they could do.
“When Benji gets a bit of space and runs with the ball a lot more, they’re certainly a lot more dangerous.”
Betham insisted the Kiwis should copy Australia in Saturday’s final by spreading the ball wide and pointed to the Kangaroos’ rampant right edge as evidence of where last week’s game was won and lost.
Australia’s right-side pairing of Brett Morris and Brent Tate ran riot, with Morris crossing for a double and Tate adding another of his own in a devastating display of speed and power.
“They went straight at that edge plenty of times but it all came down to winning the play-the ball and being willing to spread the ball,” Betham said. “It was a bit of a wake-up call.
“We’ve been playing some really good football, we were favourites heading into that match because Australia didn’t play that great against England and there was all the talk about us being sick of being called the little brother and I think that probably affected us a little bit.
“We probably went away from what we had done the past few games. But I think we can turn it around.
“The other night Australia was able to nullify the Kiwis’ effective plays, which are getting out of dummy-half and starting off their sets well.
“They got numbers in the tackle and really nullified what the Kiwis were trying to do.
“But I think what Stephen Kearney said – that it was the worst his side had played – was probably right.
“I don’t know if Australia can play that well two weeks in a row, and I’d prefer going into the final this way than going in as hot favourites.
“I know for a fact that the players are frustrated with how they played and they’re determined to fix it this week.”