The All Blacks shed their cloak of invincibility last night yet continued on their winning way. They had to work for it. They had to sweat, remind the nation that appearances have been deceptive this season – test rugby is a tough business.
Gregor Paul, NZ Herald
The high-octane rugby was still on view, the desire to run and cut loose always evident, but some of the grunt, some of the smash work wasn’t.
Also on view was genuine Wallaby resistance. They had most of the ball. They had plenty of territory and they had plenty of passion.
They just couldn’t find the right holes to run through. Their ball retention was excellent – their direction not so. No one can expect to beat the All Blacks with such lateral work.
That directness was probably the component the All Blacks were most obviously missing, too. That, and the ball.
The Wallabies will do well to dominate possession like this again – which will make their failure to do more with it all the more galling. Not that it was easy.
Tackling the core
The All Blacks didn’t relent in the tackle. No one panicked, no one lost their discipline and the faith in the structure – which seemed to be trying to push the Wallabies to the touchline – was at the core of their success.
Without the ball they couldn’t control the tempo and inject some speed. The All Blacks want fatigue in the game, they back their conditioning and believe they can run riot against anyone in the final quarter.
The Wallabies killed that option. They also did a great job of winning turnover ball; of isolating the All Black ball carrier and preventing continuity.
The only place the All Blacks were clearly in control was in the scrum. Salesi Ma’afu didn’t look like a test player. The Wallaby scrum didn’t look like a test scrum.
The All Blacks might feel they didn’t make enough of their superiority there. They might also feel that they overdid their strategy of hitting flat runners off Piri Weepu. The Wallabies could see it coming.
It’s fair enough the coaches want to build more facets into the game-plan, but it’s also true this side looks best when the ball is moved wide.
That was what delivered the first two tries – lightning strikes where the ball was moved fast and crisply, the runners coming on at terrific speed. The Wallabies didn’t have that same ferocity, that same strike-power.
The difference in the latter isn’t always easy to see in tangibles. It was when Anthony Faingaa, in just his second test, got a little edgy on defence early in the first half and rushed in on Ma’a Nonu.
It left acres of space for Conrad Smith to cruise down the left flank and plonk the ball in the corner.
In comparison, when the Wallabies had created an overlap down the left early in the second half, Drew Mitchell threw a wild pass that squandered the hard work.
It was those little rash moments, those key mistakes that hurt Australia again. They were much tighter in most of their work, far better at maintaining possession and also at slowing down the speed of the All Blacks’ recycle.
Hunted in numbers
They were also more intense on defence; hunted in numbers and mostly made their first-up tackles. All that made a difference – it meant nothing came particularly easily for the All Blacks as it did in Melbourne and that will be a welcome relief.
Partly as a result of yellow and red cards and partly of opponents being some way off peak form, the All Blacks have had some easy shifts this season.
That lack of competition is potentially dangerous – it’s a potential breeder of complacency.
There were occasions when the All Blacks had the look of a side who felt everything would come just by being there.
Some of their accuracy was missing. The snarling aggression fluctuated rather than forming a base line. The Wallabies, clearly having done their analysis, were better able to stand up to the Blitzkreig at the breakdown and attacked the All Blacks at kick-off, inducing a few untidy errors.
If nothing else, it was a good reminder that the All Blacks have to be on top of their game every time they play.
New Zealand 20 (M. Muliaina, C. Smith tries; D. Carter 2 cons, 2 pens) Australia 10 (K. Beale try; M. Giteau con, pen).