… the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. Duke of Wellington 1815
Never underestimate the opposition
By Roger Childs
Last weekend it was a decisive 54-34; last night 35-29 in Dunedin on the back of a 77th minute try.
There is an old sporting adage that you can only play as well as the opposition lets you.
In Sydney the Wallabies left yawning gaps in their defence which the All Blacks exploited unmercifully in the first 47 minutes.
Seven days later, it was clear that the Australians had done their homework. No easy ride this time.
Couldn’t hold the advantage after a big lead
The Wallabies had a cracking start and were out to 17-0 in less than as many minutes: shades of the All Blacks first half momentum in Sydney. The home team was trying to do things too quickly, and the combination of uncharacteristic handling errors plus the visitors’ resolute defence kept the home side at bay.
It was now catch-up rugby and it was only in the 60th minute that the All Blacks went ahead 21-17. But the Wallabies were not going to lie down.
In the last 14 minutes the lead changed four times and when Kurtley Beale scored under the posts in the 75th minute it looked as if the Bledisloe Cup winners would be decided in the Brisbane test next month.
However the combination of the leadership of Kieran Read and the brilliance of Beauden Barrett sealed the victory.
Learning from the experience
The All Blacks have two tests against each of South Africa and Argentina coming up. If there was a touch of arrogance and over-confidence going into last night’s match, that will have been thoroughly dispelled.
Although the home team forwards dominated the Wallaby scrum and had a 100% record for own-throw lineouts, there were serious deficiencies in the backs. There were too many poor passes and knock-ons, especially in the first half.
Damien McKenzie threw a wild pass early on which the speedy Israel Folau pounced on to run in the first Australian try. Sonny Bill Williams had a poor game and was replaced earlier that he would have expected.
The backline was back to its usual efficiency by late in the first half, however there were few gaps in the Wallaby defence.
There will a strong back-to-basics message at the backs training for the upcoming Four Nations tests.
Two young All Blacks really stood out on the night: winger Rieko Ioane and debut prop Nepo Laulala. The former built on his excellent form in Sydney and as well as scoring an excellent try, always looked fast and dangerous with ball in hand.
Laulala was a revelation. Brought in to cover for veteran Owen Franks, the new boy was a key figure in consistently rolling back the Wallaby scrum. He also showed great commitment in the tight and good ball skills in the loose. With Both Franks and Crockett on the injured list, Laulala is a more than adequate replacement.
Another pleasing feature of the All Black performance was Beauden Barrett’s goal kicking: five out of five conversions in the windless atmosphere of Forsyth Barr.
Maybe the usually very reliable Wallaby kicker, Bernard Foley, was allowing for some breeze as he hit the woodwork three times in five conversions.
That was the difference in the scores.
Back to reality
The packed house in Dunedin, and the hundreds of thousands of television-watching fans, were treated to a thriller on Saturday night. Ten classy tries were scored: four of them in the space of 11 minutes near the end.
For the Wallabies, despite the loss, it was a confidence booster for the games ahead against the Pumas and the Springboks, and for the All Blacks, a reality check about getting the basics right and respecting the opposition.