by Paul Waite
23 Jul 2007
It was a wet night at Eden Park, but the All Blacks finally put together a performance good enough to see them off to the 2007 Rugby World Cup with confidence that everything is on track for a good showing there.
Although full of running and ambition, the sad fact for the Wallabies is that they spent the whole 80 minutes of this test without looking like they would cross the All Blacks’ line. Their only scoring options seemed to be through penalties, or the odd freak droppie from Mat “it’s a piece of cake” Gateaux.
Nevertheless, the first half was one of frustration for the All Blacks as they found the Australians very competetive at the lineout and the ruck, which denied them both posession and go-forward. At the ruck there was a lack of numbers, and out wide a few mistakes in the wet saw little in the way of scoring opportunities. Both teams traded penalties and went in at halftime with honours even and scores close at 12-9 to New Zealand.
The second half was a different story. The All Black forwards took the game by the scruff and dominated all around the park. The pick-and-go was used as an effective weapon, and the rucks were supported more keenly and with a greater vigour. The lineout, which had suffered a few steals against the throw, put in a perfect 10 performance in the second half as well, and for the whole 40 minutes Australia were starved of the ball for long periods, and were rendered even less threatening than in the first half.
Forward dominance resulted in the only try of the match as Woodcock forced over in the right-hand corner off the back of a ruck, which was formed after a burst by halfback Brendon Leonard – a player we will hear more of in this coming World Cup.
This was the final chance for the All Blacks to get some momentum after what might be loosely termed a ‘mixed’ Tri-Series. The Bledisloe Cup was on the line, as was the less important Tri-Nations Trophy, but the key element was the team had to put a performance on the track which gave them belief in themselves before the World Cup starts in seven weeks.
They did just that, whilst also knowing that they still have a lot of practice and refining to do in the interim.
The scrum remains a brutal weapon, when refereed by someone who actually knows what is going on. Kudos to Northern Hemisphere ref Nigel Owens for showing the likes of silly Marius Jonkers how it’s done.
The lineout, on close review, isn’t as bad as it first seemed. We had 19 lineouts, four or so of which went ‘bad’. All of these were marginal, and can be sorted with more concentrated practice.
Out in midfield the Toeava/McAlister combination faced down the stern test of the Giteau/Mortlock combination and did well. With Conrad Smith now in the squad and fully fit, we have some good options there.
In the locks Robinson showed his value around the park. He was into everything and moved bodies around at ruck time like a bulldozer at times. He’s also a good bloke to have on your side when things turn a bit ugly, as in the form of Dan Vickerman, who had his Comedy Breasts Wallaby jersey ripped to shreds in return for his petty shove in the back on Robbo at one stage of the proceedings.
The arrival of Brendon Leonard has also been a timely one. This lad seems to have a huge turn of pace out of the blocks, and surely the moment of the test was the way he snatched a pass from the Wallaby No.8 right off the tip of George Gregan’s nose. His crisp passing, darts and dabs have injected a lot of energy into the team.
So, the Wallabies are saying the gap has closed. That’s true enough, but there still is a gap, obviously, since the Wallabies know they spent 80 minutes without a sniff of crossing the All Blacks line.
Assuming the All Blacks prepare well, and bring their form back to the kind of boil we know that these players can produce, then we will see a lot of improvement between now and World Cup time.
Let’s see if the Wallabies can keep that gap from widening out again, come the crunch.
Time to take off the ‘chokers’ tag kindly donated to us by the Aussie media, and stick it back to them right where the Sun don’t shine.by