The Wallabies finally broke their All Black hoodoo, which had lasted some ten straight matches, with last night’s victory over the world’s leading team, by 26 points to 24. In a high quality, thrilling match, it was the Wallabies who this time scored the last minute, get-out-of-jail try and the nail-biting conversion from out wide. It was a justified result, for the Australian team, after long periods of dominance, had been denied a significant lead by poor goal-kicking. They were positive, aggressive and enterprising throughout and their final and fourth try sealed the game in the same manner that had used throughout.
The All Blacks’ defence, built on an ability to deny quick recycled ball to their opponents, was always going to be difficult to crack. Success against quality defences requires attacks to ask difficult questions and a good percentage of these questions need to be asked at and around the tackle contest. The need for defensive numbers in this zone, to combat the threats, will make space elsewhere for properly aligned phase attack. T
he Wallabies had a clear focus and excellent execution to provide off-loads and urgency in ball delivery; all of this distracted the All Black defence and mistakes were made. Such a strategy will never be without errors; these plays are, by necessity, made under the very noses of punishing tacklers and the slightest miscalculation can result in a ball-turnover. One attempted off-load from the brilliant Kurtley Beale, for example, hit his own foot, as it whirled through the air in the spin of his tackle, and was kicked through to the opposition. The Wallabies though had the courage of their convictions and were not to be dissuaded by such outcomes. Their courage was rewarded.
The Wallabies had dominated early possession, a reward to their positive mind-set, and Quade Copper crossed after one such off-load – this one by Ben McCalman. Recent goal-kicking problems continued and a blank score-sheet of none from three attempts assisted the calm through the storm for the All Blacks. A comeback from a five-nil deficit after such a period under extreme pressure, is readily achievable.
More was to follow, however, and a scything break from Ashley-Cooper saw him round the covering Corey Jane for a beautiful try under the posts. Now it was 12 – NIL, and a whole lot more serious. It was very early days still and the All Blacks knew that consistent possession would give them similar opportunity. As they had done previously all season, they focussed on their individual jobs, did the basic things well and were soon back in the game. Indeed they were in the lead at 12-14 and on the stroke of half-time a penaly by Dan Carter extended that to 12-17.
At this point, the Wallabies looked somewhat downcast and indeed had been a little unlucky with a couple of full penalties (!) for early engagements on their own scrum ball. The first of these came from a Wallaby scrum feed about 6-7 metres from the all Black line, when the scrum had been called only after Conrad Smith had theatrically appealed to the referee for an obstruction – by the referee! Without debating the merits of Smith’s appeal, I can only say that I have frequently seen such appeals ignored. To see the Wallabies subsequently penalised from the scrum and then the All Blacks score soon after at the other end, seemed horribly unjust.
Full marks to the All Blacks, nevertheless, for two clinically executed tries in this period of New Zealand dominance. Upcoming opponents will have noted that there is no opportunity for a ‘breather’ against this team.
The Wallaby scrum looked much more stable after the break, following clear All Black dominance in the first half and this augured well, but after yet another missed penalty, they appeared to slacken – perhaps wondering how, without a kicker, they could prevail. The All Blacks sensed this and lifted their efforts. Poor tackling and relentless powerful running soon created opportunity for New Zealand and Nonu made short work of the front-rowers between him and the try-line. 12-24 was not looking easy for the Wallabies.
Somehow, however, they rallied. Their rejuvenated scrum held firm and a brilliantly executed backline play, with a pin-point Cooper pass, saw Beale break clear. He ran beautifully and expertly gave Mitchell the space for the run to the corner. This was sheer excellence and, once again, the Wallabies understandably believed in themselves. O’Connor converted from touch and Wallaby ‘tails were up’; the necessary five points were well within their grasp!
The remaining period saw both teams maintaining their efforts to score – the Wallabies to save the game and perhaps to take the lead, the All Blacks to gain any additional points which would secure the victory. On those occasions however when the Wallabies threatened the All Black line, the defence gave away obviously deliberate penalties, any one of which deserved a yellow card. Here the referee let himself, and his craft, down. Given the drama of the moment, they were perhaps difficult decisions, but that is what good referees – and good players – do. They make good, difficult decisions.Let’s hope that Paddy has a quiet word to Alain!
In the end, after sustained attacking play, all the time maintaining the positive approach which they had used throughout the game, O’Connor crossed for a superb team try. It contained all of the elements that make our game great – brains and brawn, superb running and handling skills, and direct, powerful collision where necessary. A great try against a desperate, great adversary. With the scores level and full-time long gone, O’Connor then calmly drilled it dead centre. One conversion from the left touch, then the next from the right. Maybe we’ve found a reliable kicker.
I thought that Ben Franks, at tight-head, was immense, literally and figuratively. He seems to have bulked up in the last month and looked powerful and aggressive. He gave Ben Robinson a torrid time, especially in the first half, and was the major factor in his team’s scrum dominance in this period. McCaw was his usual outstanding self all round, but his young opponent had his number at the tackle. Nonu was a real handful, but spoilt his performance with a few stupid penalties. Read also was once again outstanding at No.8.
For the winners, Beale and Cooper consistently threatened the defence and were the major components in a great team performance. Pocock and Elsom were outstanding contributors up-front and the Australian lineout tormented their opponents all night. But for me, the most significant single factor in Australia’s victory was the accuracy of their passing. I can’t remember one backline player having to turn , or adjust his run, to accommodate a misdirected pass. Outstanding teams do the simple things outstandingly well! Halleluiah!