In the end, it was a factory like performance by the All Blacks, as they won the opening Rugby Championship match. Won handsomely in fact, as the Australian team was dismantled expertly.
Clinching the victory 42-8, based mostly on a staggering first half that saw ups and downs. Those ups came all for the visitors, while the downs were all for the home side. Losing three players to injury in extraordinary circumstances, and that those three men would each be replacements for the exact same inside centre position, was unheard of.
One by one, first Matt Giteau, then Matt Toomua and finally outside back Rob Horne, were all taken from the field. Taken from the competition upset the Australian side clearly. How could it not do. Any loss of a first-strike player gives the All Blacks an advantage. And while the second half saw an improvement – or might that be a reduction in the All Black attack – it was far too much for any team to rebound from.
Harsh self reflection
Once the match had run it’s course, there was only time to reflect on the loss. Fans actually left early, as they had seen all too much. Even players and the home sides coach admitted there was not much to gain from the match. “That would be a lie of me if I tried to find one [a positive],” he said.
“I thought that Will Genia played well in his first game back and David Pocock was outstanding as well in his efforts and some players did that. But no I don’t think [there were any positives],” Michael Cheika said. And he might have wanted to say more, but there was no silver lining to speak of.
Michael Cheika straight up “it’s not rustyness, let’s get that one out of they way” – “poor” defence pic.twitter.com/1X18lg4jFQ
The second half did see a change, with the visitors holding on to only two tries after scoring four in the first half. They should have crossed the line right at the death, but for a call that looked 50/50. And that was the signaled end for the suffering Wallaby fans to head out the door. Their team had only bothered the scoreboard for a single try and penalty [eight points] so what value in staying around to talk-up the All Blacks. They quickly emptied the stadium, for cleaners to be the only ones to take any advantage on the night.
Buoyant feeling now deflated
“Really tough mate. We’ve been training really hard, working hard, but the All Blacks just over ran us tonight” was the comment from Bernard Foley. Blunt, and to the point, which just about sums up the feeling from the Wallaby camp. It left a sour taste in players and fans mouths. A devastating loss, which in the light of Sunday’s reaction from the mornings newspapers, will feel much worse.
In his answer to questions, Cheika made it clear “Defence is attitude so there’s no rustiness,” he said. That was in answer to a question about a massive 38 missed tackles. Beside a lack of possession and territory, the stats looked as bad as the injury ward. Three backs removed, Nick Phipps had to play on the wing; at times he looked puzzled, but so did more experienced players. They each had roles to play before the match started, but by the games end some were left deflated and having to ‘cope’.
“Let’s get that one out of the way straight away, right. There’s no rustiness. When players run at you, you’ve got to tackle and that’s the nature of the game. So when other things don’t work out, that’ll look after you”. Cheika could not isolate any one reason and people at the press conference could tell the earlier buoyant feeling leading up to the game, all came to nothing.
Factory like performance from All Blacks
In comparison, the game ‘fell into the hands’ of the New Zealand team. The ‘machine’ had very much kicked right into gear. Never suffering the perceived loss of experience in six senior players all retiring, they continued to run like clockwork. Steve Hansen had them greased up, all ready to react to any situation – that is the difference between this All Blacks team, and any other side in World Rugby. If they need to defend, they do. Counter attack, they do. And to force a mistake, is what they most easily do.
After five minutes, a major threat in the form of Giteau was removed. Hansen must have seen that as only a blip. Then, after the visitors had stolen two clean lineouts and Beaden Barrett ran in a grand try, Australia then lost Toomua. It compounded the ‘altered state’ that team were playing in, Hansen might have wondered if his team could make some gains from that situation.
Within five minutes, Horne’s shoulder injury had shattered the backline plans of Cheika, Stephen Larkin and Nathan Gray. Stunned, the All Blacks went about the rest of the game having to balance all-out attack with an awareness that they might leave holes if they were too overly aggressive. Some loose passing entered their game, but they also had to adapt to injury too.
Injuries on both sides
Inside the opening few minutes, Codie Taylor; the replacement starting hooker for Nathan Harris (ACL injury) suffered a clear concussion. Taken from the field, it meant Dane Coles was forced to play nearly 80 minutes – all the while after his severe rib injury. That didn’t stop him though. He scrummaged, tackled and even scored a try. Amazing workman like performance from that cog in the AB machine.
Then, in the act of scoring a try, Waisake Naholo was also pulled from the field on the halftime whistle. The incredible attrition rate saw Julian Savea have to play a full 40 minutes, and he subversively benefited very much from that period. In a spell of poor form, he started in a quiet mood. A slightly fumbling manner but Savea got much better over the second half. His first try in a handful of games, it saw the left wing become the youngest player in rugby to score 40 International tries.
Along with captain Kieran Read and Aaron Smith, they all had good games and the NZ skipper is now the most experienced man within his team – and seems to be relishing the role. The men he leads around are all working in unison well. Working, and adjusting best to change much more easily than the Australian team did. As if, any replacement parts do not upset the ‘factory like performance’ that Hansen is getting from the group.
There were many admirers prior to the game who believed the challenge was high. Many had assumed that with the length of preparation the Wallabies had would benefit them. That was a common feeling among commentators and the general rugby public. After 85 minutes, some were left speechless. In rugby, the final whistle can bring jubilation [for New Zealand] and total disbelief for others [Australian fans]. A tough match to fathom, as fans wandered from the Stadium in a muted applause for the victors.
If you were to make a comparison tonight it would be that the All Blacks were operating like a well-oiled machine. Straight off the showroom floor, they played with factory like performance and kicked into gear fastest. From the haka (see main picture) which is now a flawless performance, the side are all engineered to run as smoothly as possible.
Not an entirely satisfactory performance, as Steve Hansen and his coaching panel will tell you. They have room to improve but will surely be happy. Not getting ahead of themselves either (a failure that affects many sides).
To walk away from Sydney with five competition points, having scored an impressive 42-8 victory was unimaginable. No member of the All Blacks group would have anticipated that scoreline, let alone the way the game ‘fell into their hands’. Realistic, Hansen told media “Things went our way and the Australians lost a couple of players to head injuries and the ball went our way so we’ll take it.”
NEW ZEALAND 42
Tries: Ryan Crotty, Beauden Barrett, Jerome Kaino, Waisake Naholo, Dane Coles, Julian Savea
Con: Barrett (3) Penalties: Barrett (2)
Try: Nick Phipps
Penalty: Foley (1)
Man of the Match performance – Beauden Barrett
In his elevation to the starting role, Barrett has moved from the great impact player to now having the ability to lead a side. While his was not the perfect all round game that brings fans to their feet (Dan Carter in 2005) he was a revelation. Again!
Very much like in Dunedin, he ran the ship effortlessly, continuing the play he has developed since the June Internationals. His kicking was fair, with three successful conversions, from six tries. But his delivery was the key. He passed 26 times and made a massive 95 metres–unheard of from a first-five. After the substitutes entered, he had to sit back and wait on the ball, but after the opening 60 minutes, fans could forgive him a quiet ending. He has progressed to another level, and expect him to start in Wellington next week.
Bledisloe Cup: Match Two
So fans can look forward to the next encounter with as much enthusiasm. It was a great build-up this week for the All Blacks. Now they can return home, and take another 6 days to build into this match two of The Rugby Championship. They will have a bounce in their step. More so because of the knowledge that their opposition must redress their injuries, their confidence and their failures. Cheika will not be one to stand idle, so expect changes and more ferocity next Saturday.
If anything can be taken away from the match, and from my experience of visiting ANZ Stadium, it is ‘you can’t expect the unexpected’. The game of Rugby, and sports in general, will never do what you expect. The players can influence the result, but at some points, coaches will throw their hands up and say “I can’t explain it”. We don’t expect them to. You just know that each of them–the winners and the losers–will learn from the experience, and improve from it.
My first experience of this ‘big test match occasion’ and personal reaction is, you couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. An enjoyable night, the sense of occasion was palpable from the time I arrived by train. As the match wore on, the acceptance of the superiority of the All Blacks was widely agreed on. At the completion, knowledgeable rugby writers each gave glowing praise of the Kiwi’s.
Privileged to have access; thanks to Australian Rugby, this is one match report that Last Word On Sports hope to bring more of over the course of The Rugby Championship.
“Main photo credit”