6 Aug

The All Blacks Through the Looking Glass
by Rick Boyd
6 Aug 2000

Was the second Bledisloe Cup test of 2000 a mirror image of the first?

Yes and no.

True, both games started with one side scoring early tries, as much through slack defence as through enterprise. In both games the other team staged a comeback to play better rugby for most of the game. And in both games the team that opened the scoring closed the scoring, winning a test they did not really deserve to.

That analysis won’t go down well in Australia because after all, what’s the point of being Australian if you can’t be better than everyone else all the time. I should know, I live there.

And how are the games not a mirror image of each other? After the first game, we had to say Australia were number one. Australians were already saying that of course, loudly and often, following their world cup win last year. Even though they drew with New Zealand one all in 1999 and couldn’t really claim supremacy, particularly since the winning of both those tests was based on who made the most mistakes, and lots of them. But winning world cups will do that to you, particularly if you’re Australian. Just wait until the olympics mate. Oh dear oh dear. But I digress.

No, Australia were clearly the better team after the first Bledisloe Cup test of 2000, even though they lost. Apart from early defensive complacency they played far better rugby than the All Blacks, they played better as a team, with a better game plan, and better execution. The All Blacks spent most of the match going backwards, and combine that with lousy lineouts, turnovers, knock ons and first tackles rare as modest Australians, and you had a test we were downright lucky to win.

And what do we say after the second game? Are Australia the better team? Not a bit of it. New Zealand dominated for most of this game. Their defensive play was so much better, the Australians deadly attacking pattern in close never had a chance to fire up. The lineouts were better, most of the time — although the couple at the end cost us the game. The attack was inventive and if not quite cracking the Wallaby defence wide open, it was clearly on the cards.

But the error rate was still unnacceptably high. Mehrts missed some vital kicks. Sometimes they tried too hard and looked rushed. It was almost great play, but not quite. The highlight of the game for me? Lomu made a tackle that looked like he weighed eighteen stone, not ten stone.

And Australia, Australia looked good but only good. Their error rate was low but apart from a couple of bursts by Herbert, their much vaunted attack looked well contained. They didn’t have anywhere near the impact they had in Sydney, but then that was probably as good as any team can expect to get. Real hard to reproduce week after week, specially with a much improved All Black defence.

Yes, there is a bottom line, and I’m getting to it. Australia didn’t deserve to win this test, but New Zealand made too many mistakes to deserve the win either. Win or loss aside, on the basis of play I now say Australia and New Zealand are on a par. We’ve had two games, one win apiece, both teams have played the better rugby against the other at home, and all in all, I think Australia and New Zealand are, for all intents and purposes, entitled to equal standing on the rugby world stage. Joint number one. With South Africa so far third they probably can’t even see the other two for dust. And that’s being kind to them.

Time for the mathematicians to start arguing about the Tri Nations. The points must now be equal. So we need Australia to beat South Africa without scoring four tries while the All Blacks defeat the Springboks and score four tries. I don’t even want to think about for and against.

Got a coin anyone?

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