Last Word On Rugby, by Scott Hornell.
In a tough encounter, where an Australian team took a step-up, fans saw a solid performance from the All Blacks–tested, but never ‘bested’ by the Aussies–as they claim the World Record of 18 straight victories.
In front of a loyal home crowd of 47,744 at Eden Park in Auckland, Steve Hansen’s men had to withstand a better offering from the opposition. It required them to work more on the basics first, before they were able to complete their task.
New Zealand 37 – J. Savea (2), I. Dagg, A. Leinert-Brown, TJ Perenara, D. Coles tries; A.Cruden (2) cons, (1) pen
Australia 10 – R. Arnold try; B. Foley (1) pen, (1) con.
Solid Performance from the All Blacks
While they opened the scoring quickly enough, by scoring the first two of six tries tonight within ten minutes, the period thereafter was “a fierce test match” in Hansen’s words in a post-match press conference. “It was a tough, tough game. We are proud we got to 18 (unbroken winning sequence since 2015) but we didn’t do it easy”.
It was expected to be tough, after the Australian Wallabies cemented second-place in The Rugby Championship, after a five losses on-the-trot. After the first two of three trans-Tasman games, they managed to improve. After being well beaten by England and then shattered by the stronger All Blacks in August, it ‘took the wind out of the Aussie sails‘. By September, Australia had improved and tonight they looked a much, much better side.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika claimed that his side gave a “better platform upfront; which we’re happy with, but there were some reckless turnovers.” It is true, that his side has improved and they can see where they want to get to. They are just not there yet, and the sense is that they were beaten by–in Cheika’s words “an unbelievably good team”–is clear to see.
80 minute game–not 50 minutes
In a similar theme to earlier victories from New Zealand (NZ) where the win has occurred with the ‘team in Black’ performing at key points of the game. Not peaking too soon, and not having to make a huge comebacks. When Wallabies captain Stephen Moore was asked whether he was happy with being in the game for 50 minutes, he said:
“Game goes for 80 minutes. 50 is not good enough, it needs to work for 80 to win”.
After conceding a 10-0 lead, the Aussie changes in desire realized a much better 30 minute effort, before the break. They were not docile, confronting the All Blacks. That was especially so in the one scoring movement that emboldened the teams momentum. With a surge into the home sides territory, young Rory Arnold took a try, and won the ‘battle of the handbags’.
Swinging arms are put away commonly today, as no player wants to be sent off. Arnold and Michael Hooper were in-the-face of the All Blacks (see picture) with no backward steps from either team. Brodie Retallick and Owen Franks taking exception to any pushing or shoving. It occurred in Wellington too, and was never far from the surface all game.
So up to the 60th minute, it was close-quarter rugby. Any long range run was stopped by either by loose handling from the Wallabies, or good defence that caused a turnover. But in the last 20 minutes, where one side was more prominent, with New Zealand coming to the fore.
Turning point in the game
More often in rugby, a moment can turn a game towards one side or the other. It will commonly be a try scoring movement, a penalty or a setpiece. Offensive moves that take an advantage. Tonight, what seemed to be a 45th minute try for Australia had repercussions felt across the Tasman.
That the referee made his presence felt is primary. Considered the worlds best, Nigel Owens at first awarded a Henry Speight try, yet then called for the TMO after council from his assistants and in looking at the big screen. And on replay, it appears that after Speight receives a pass, a following player (Dane Haylett-Petty was deemed to have changed his line and taken out Julian Savea).
— rugby (@theblitzdefence) October 22, 2016
With Bernard Foley lining up the kick to bring the scores closer, Owens ruled it a no try. The cries were heard from out of Sydney–a crucial call, which then aided NZ when their hitman Jerome Kaino decided to start ‘smashing bodies’ as he says. Hitting them hard!
In hindsight, that was not the exact point, but from the time substitutes began to be used, the pendulum swung towards the All Blacks. Big tackles became slick passing, kicks gained territory, with a few Aussie mistakes benefiting too. Forwards now had better handling and it opened up more space for the backline to flourish.
Savea turns on the Firepower
After 65 minutes, and after holding back a lot of their attack, it was time to switch up the intensity. They began to play more freely–not that they couldn’t in the first half–but the risk and reward rugby requires a solid base laid. On that, men like Julian Savea and Dane Coles can then prosper.
It happened in small increments. First a big effort from Kaino to start ‘breaking bodies’ as he so loves to do. He cracked the Australian teams metal, and it creaked more. The smaller spaces widened, players using the gap more–with none better than Savea (main picture).
Earlier troubles in the Super Rugby season had delayed his peaking. Even Waisake Naholo was used in South Africa, but ‘Julz’ reclaimed his spot, and he started to look familiar. 43 test tries soon enlarged to 45, as Savea crossed for a second time when he broke three tackles later in the game. The player had taken the handbrake off on ‘the Bus’ and he was forcing others to bend at his will.
Hansen commented on Savea, “when you see a player struggle, and work hard to step-up and come through it, it is very pleasing for us.” Pleasing for fans too–maybe not for a few Northern Hemisphere backs who might face Julian in the next month.
A match that underlines an unbeaten season
In the build-up, and now in the outcome of the game, the Tier One record of wins is achieved. Only Cypress hold a better team record, of 24 wins over Tier Two nations. Asked Friday, Kieran Read said “we know whats at stake”. Asked tonight how he felt, and the NZ captain stated;
“It’s been a big week, the boys will be really proud. Test matches are hard to win. There have been over 4800 of them, and to get to 18 in-a-row is a real accomplishment.”
Unbeaten since the same Bledisloe Cup fixture in 2015, to go an entire 12 months unbeaten is certainly something to be proud of. Like the Eden Park record: not beaten in 37 games, and not beaten by Australia there in a massive 30 years.
And while the Australian team did push hard, they came-up ultimately short. The gap is still visible, especially in the last quarter of the game. If the home side had to play ‘catch-up football’ it might bring more pressures–but until that day, they must be considered one of the best teams to represent their country.
Pride and heritage are two strong values in the All Blacks. Even with match-winner Beauden Barrett carrying an ear infection, his 44th minute substitute Aaron Cruden is world-class. It is that depth that can allow a Solid Performance from the All Blacks, and bring smiles to faces of all 47,000 rugby fans who attended.
Even some of those wearing Green and Gold.
Earlier that day, the New Zealand Black Ferns women’s rugby team beat their Australian opposition Wallaroos 67-3, in a commanding performance.
“Main photo credit”