From the Last Word on Rugby department.
From the outside, a 34-54 All Blacks win was very good. New all-time scoring records were achieved in a spectacular game. But the finish to the match also left many questions. For both sides, Last Word on Rugby asks ‘What Went Wrong in Sydney?’ How did the Wallabies come back, from being 6-54 down, to seemingly, save the result from a disaster.
Captain Kieran Read issued his first statement post-game. When asked by SkySports about the result, he said “We just let that frustration strangle us a little bit [in the second half]. We just needed to dump that thinking, and get back to some simple footy.
“It showed in that first half, when we just carried and let the ball do the work, it came off for us.”
The match at ANZ Stadium was your classic ‘game of two halves’. During the opening 40 minutes, the visitors scored at a-point-a-minute. Six tries from the attack-minded All Blacks. It was a highlight package, and staring at a 6-40 scoreline the Australian players and fans were in stunned silence.
After the whistle blew time-on for the second 40 minutes, the All Blacks even scored two more tries, including one to an impressive Damian McKenzie. But after 51 minutes; as new Wallabies player Curtis Rona scored for the home side, the game flipped on it’s axis. The next 29 minutes were a completely different game.
Game of Two Halves
Nothing was going the way of Australia in the first half. Michael Cheika has called his teams defense as ‘woeful’. Those 40 points were the most conceded by the Wallabies in the first half of a Test against the All Blacks. They will have thought, what have we got to do now?
In rugby, as in most ball sports, the psychological aspect is critical. Captain Michael Hooper needed his men to hasten the points flow, and when Ben Smith scored a scintillating try, the 6-54 scoreline was looking like a train wreck.
Even with all of the external distractions; Jerome Kaino leaving the group for personal reasons, the All Blacks appeared to be focused until substitutions by the home team caused an impact. They passed the ball with a flair to start with, preferring to run rather than kick, and that was superb to witness. It was an All Blacks win to re-write the record books [see bottom of article].
It may have caught Australia napping–but that was the fault of the home team. For 51 minutes, their defense was poor. They had little idea in how to halt it–up til Tevita Kuridrani showed his resolve. Substituted on for Samu Kerevi at the break, the big center decided that he would take the attack ‘to the attackers’. Strike against the All Blacks, and to the Australian sides benefit, it turned the tide.
Since Kuridrani came on,Wallabies looking way better,if only we had 15 Kuridrani's.
— Max Moon (@SlavicHorde) August 19, 2017
In rugby, the actions of one player can be a change-maker for the rest of the team.
Second Half Fightback from Wallabies
Not that the All Blacks would simply allow it. They still had some fight, and the first Wallabies try did stop the flood of points. It was how the energy levels rose in one side, that absolutely saved Australia from a rout. At 20-54, the sense that some respectability was now regained would have pleased Michael Cheika.
His side were not done. After Kuridrani scored, the attacking mindset changed. Having little territory, the Wallabies let their hands do the talking. From Rory Arnold to Israel Folau, the impetus shifted. New Zealand did more backwards steps, and began to introduce fresh legs.
— Menzi Kulati (@menzikulati) August 19, 2017
Substitutions can bring success, but they can also contribute badly. For the All Blacks, what went wrong in Sydney was that the subs added little. Anton Lienert-Brown was not as forthright as Ryan Crotty had been. Luke Romano, who at times bring a fierce attitude, was less so. And TJ Perenara spent more time in defense than coordinating attack.
For the visitors, it was time to sweat. And head coach Steve Hansen summed it up well. “The first 50 minutes is probably as good a rugby as you’ll ever see. And the last 30 was some of the ugliest rugby you’ll see.”
Australia 34 Tries: K. Rona, T. Kuridrani, K. Beale, I. Folau; Conversions: B. Foley (4); Penalties: Foley (2)
New Zealand 54 Tries: L. Squire, R. Ioane (2), R. Crotty (2), S. Williams, D. McKenzie, B. Smith; Cons: B. Barrett (7)
What Went Wrong in Sydney?
More so, what did the Australians change, to get back in the game. They re-focused. Michael Hooper put it down to their defense “unraveling a bit. And then able to get back in it, with some really good fight.”
Both captains would have called in their troops. A group attitude to defense is imperative, and the change in momentum put the All Blacks under pressure. They made silly mistakes, and the continuity that had been there, was misaligned. Not entirely due to subs, but that factor did not improve–especially when Wyatt Crockett went off with a head knock.
The fightback was a positive, but Michael Cheika had to concede that, “I know that we’ll improve, and we’ve got to do some quick improving now around for the next game. But you’ve got to have both sides game [defense, as well as attack. everyone understands what we have to do, to rectify that next week.
“We want to keep the series alive.”
Both Sides Will Review the Positives, and the Negatives
So as the game ended, the teams return to their bases, and each will analyze the result. It will be a mixed. For New Zealand, a 70/30 mix of good and bad. For Australia, a 40/60 mix. That could well have been worse. So the good they did in the first few minutes and mid third quarter, can be built upon.
Players to shine, were Kuridrani and All Blacks loose forward Liam Squire. He brought a new dynamic raw metal to the All Blacks. He was very much the ‘Player of the Day’ for LWOR. His performance was called ‘phenomenal’ by Steve Hansen, and showed what a good selection he was.
— Fox Sports Rugby (@FOXRugbyLive) August 19, 2017
For New Zealand, they will now be on home soil. Not only can they rest their bodies, but their minds too. After the massive distractions of last week, the team can focus on Forsyth-Barr Stadium and the second game of the Bledisloe Cup/Rugby Championship.
Read said “we concede 34 points, most days of the week you’re gonna be losing test matches. So we’ve just got to be a bit smarter around those areas. You can’t take away from that first half, it was bloody fantastic from the lads.”
The outcome of the game was an All Blacks win. And each side will walk away with questions over ‘what went wrong’ as much as ‘what did we do right’.
Records Broken in All Blacks Win (courtesy of NZ Herald)
Most points by New Zealand against Australia – 54
– Previous record was 51-20, 2014
Most conversions against Australia – 7
– Previous record was 5; held by Bob Scott, Aaron Cruden, Dan Carter
Most total points in a Bledisloe Cup clash – 88
– Previous record was 77; All Blacks 49-28, 2010
Most total tries in a Bledisoe Cup clash – 12
– Previous record was 11; All Blacks 38-13, 1936
Almost a record: Most tries against Australia – 8
Record remains at 9 – All Blacks 38-13,1936