All Blacks 19 – Wallabies 14
Someone needs to remind the Wallabies that there are two halves in a match of rugby. Yet again they came out playing the better attacking rugby, scoring two tries to nil in the first 40, to then look and play like walking zombies for the rest of the game.
The recipe for success in the first half was to play the game in the ABs half through kick chase defensive pressure, and then to spread it wide with quick ball. When doing this the Wallabies looked almost irresistible and there could have been another two tries. The passing, looping runs and clearance at the ruck were all first rate. Dare I say it, there was even counter-rucking.
Had the penalty count not been 7-1 to New Zealand after 30 minutes – continuously releasing pressure at just the wrong times – the ABs could have been out for the count (more on this later).
But it felt like we’d been here before though only a few weeks ago in Brisbane. Within two minutes of the restart another defensive cock up, this time by AAC marking the same inside man that Cross had, and Sivivatu was in. The wobbles had started. Suddenly the shape was gone – no kick chasers and no men running from deep.
This was the time when big runners like Elsom, Horwill and Palu should have been punching holes, but there was no-one to take their place. It was also the time when a positional kicking game was required. Instead AAC and Giteau began kicking balls long and out on the full. To summarise – the Wallabies scored zero points in the second half.
A lot has already been written about the Referee Alan Lewis’ impact on the match. At the breakdown he was consistent, in that he obviously thinks the defense has no right to contest the ball. Somehow an All Black lying on the ground holding the ball is a ruck and all we heard throughout the game was “let go gold, ruck formed” at precisely the point the Wallabies would have earned a turn over in any test of the season so far. With 3 fetchers in the squad it’s no surprise what a disadvantage this was to Australia.
What wasn’t consistent though was his view at scrum time. It’s no doubt that our scrum has rightly been a source of national embarrassment, but while that’s fair game for the Al Baxter hate club (otherwise known as those one-eyed fuckwits in the NZ Sky Sports box) it’s not OK for refs.
From the first collapse on the dodgy Honkers surface it was clear who Lewis was gonna nail this to, along with “Nisbo” and that lazy deadbeat John Drake. But the more you watched it, the more you realised that all bar a couple of instances, on their own feed the Wallaby scrum not only held its own, but was even dominant. So who was it who couldn’t handle the pressure on the NZ feed?
A perfect example came at a crucial point in the match on the 44th minute. Earning a rare penalty in the ABs 22, the Wallabies caused snorts of derision and disbelief in the Sky commentary box by opting for the scrum, which they went on to clearly dominate (momentary silence from strangled Skysports vowels).
The ensuing screwed backline move gave the ABs a scrum feed at which Tialata so obviously dropped the scrum that even ‘Drakey’ admutted it. Too late, Lewis had already decided who he was going to ping before the scrum was even set and Robinson takes the wrap. Poor, lazy refereeing.
The unfortunate reality is that this attitude will follow this Wallaby front row around Europe this year (Lewis is reffing the Welsh match for example) and ultimately it was Baxter and Dunning who earned it in the first place.
And the Wallabies definitely weren’t blameless today either. There were some dumb offsides, holding ons and early engagements that probably made up half of the penalty count. And I still can’t figure out why the notoriously fragile AB line-out went almost totally uncontested.
In the end, this Honkers dead rubber demonstrated another few important steps forward for Australia under Deans, but coming a valiant second to the All Blacks is wearing very thin.
NEW ZEALAND 19 (Richard McCaw, Sitiveni Sivivatu tries Daniel Carter 3 pens) bt AUSTRALIA 14 (Drew Mitchell 2 tries Matt Giteau 2 cons) at Hong Kong Stadium. Referee: Alan Lewis (IRE).