2018 Rugby Championships

Bledisloe Cup 1st Leg.

 Australia 13 vs New Zealand 38

 Saturday 18th August 2018

Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

I have just spent some amusing minutes reading some of the Aussie keyboard warriors responses to yesterday’s drubbing by the All Blacks. It seems that Aussies are not that much different to their counterparts over in South Africa! The calls for Michael Cheika’s head to be displayed on a suitable pike mounted in the middle of Sydney Harbour Bridge as a target for rotten vegetables thrown by passers-by are legion. The abuse being hurled at the Wallaby coach and his team is strikingly reminiscent to South African responses when the Springboks lose a game.

There is scant praise for the All Blacks, just heaps of discontent with the Wallaby team and their effort. Plenty of moaning about poor defence, more moans about the set-pieces, and some had a lot to say about dominating the first half but not scoring points.

As usual, there were a few who pointed fingers at the referee, Michael Cheika included. He said that Jaco Peyper’s continual penalties against the Wallaby scrum was “pretty weird” as he doubted that Peyper could actually tell who was at fault. (Sadly, Michael, your team’s scrum was retreating faster than snow under a desert sun. There was no doubt who was at fault!)

The fact of the matter is simple. The All Blacks are a superb rugby team, and the Wallabies were not up to the task of winning this game.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two teams can be found in their approach to the game itself.

Under Michael Cheika Australia have become a “3-points-at-a-time” team. When they earn a penalty even vaguely within range of their kickers’ boots, they have a go at scoring the 3-pointer. In glaring contrast, every time the All Blacks earned a penalty within striking distance of the posts, Beauden Barrett was instructed to go for the corner kick and the attacking lineout option.

There was a moment in the game when Michael Hooper complained to Jaco Peyper that All Black infringements had “cost us two tries” – which might be true, some infringements certainly stopped the Wallaby attack when it looked promising, although a certain try-scoring opportunity was still some distance off, but the reality was that at each of those infringements a penalty was correctly awarded to the Aussies, and Hooper then instructed his kickers to have a go!

If he had the courage of his convictions, and trusted his teams’ attacking ability, surely he should have kicked for the corner and attacked? He adopts that very attacking tactic when he captains the Waratahs……………

The All Blacks have an attacking mindset that is far removed from the conservative win-at-all-costs approach of so many other international teams. They play an inventive game that looks for scoring opportunities from the kick-off to the final whistle.

Have no doubt that they can grind out a win, if that is what it takes, but that is not their natural way. Their first choice, their instinct, is to go and score tries.

They also know how to defend their line.

Witness the Wallabies with 75% territorial advantage and 60% of the ball in the first 35 minutes of the game, and all they had to show for it was a measly 6 points, from the long range boot of Hodge and the shorter range effort of Foley.

The first half was pretty much as expected.

In my preview I pointed to the All Blacks habit, a tradition almost, of starting slowly with much ring rust and inaccuracy in evidence. The Wallabies knew this too, and they went at the All Blacks with huge determination and massive intent. They knew that the All Blacks’ famous second half surge was coming and that they simply had to run up a significant lead in the early phases of the Test if they wanted to have a hope of knocking over the New Zealanders.

Unfortunately the New Zealanders knew that too, and they focussed their early efforts on massive defence. They allowed the yellow and green wave to batter itself senseless against a black wall.

The first 30 minutes or so was tough and uncompromising, as the Wallabies clearly had the better of the early exchanges, attacking at every opportunity but also defending their ground with a huge effort by one and all.  The All Blacks looked rusty, lethargic almost, they made all kinds of errors, both handling and tactical, yet they still managed to absorb everything the Wallabies could throw at them

Even during these early phases, playing from deep, every time the All Blacks had an opportunity to run, they went looking for scoring opportunities.  The Australians were up to the early challenges as they met the All Black breakout attempts with sterling defence. But the writing was already drying on the wall. The men in black are the world champions for a very good reason, and their teamwork, their handling, their focus, and their intensity slowly but surely improved as the match progressed.

The 12th minute loss of Ryan Crotty to yet another concussion, his 6th in 15 months, did not help their cause as they had to rejig their backline with Anton Lienert-Brown taking the field some 60 minutes earlier than anyone expected. The loss of Crotty’s leadership and game management in the midfield did not help early continuity.

(I would suggest that this latest concussion may well signal the end of Ryan Crotty’s rugby career. Even his sister Shea, herself an international basketball player, has taken to social media to suggest that it is time for her brother to call it quits. She tweeted: “Know how frustrated he will be but for selfish reasons I want to see my brother grow old and able, not battling the brain forever.”)

As the All Blacks started to find their rhythm and their focus, they ramped up the intensity, and then they struck. In the 39th minute of the first half it was Aaron Smith who scored the first of their six tries, sending them into the half-time change room just 6-5 adrift.

When the second half kicked off it was all All Blacks and very little else.

The Wallabies had shot their bolt. They were starting to look tired, fatigued almost, as the All Blacks simply took control of every facet of the game and totally monstered the Aussies out of the game.

That first half of intense attacking and superlative defence drained the Wallabies completely. From the second half kick-off their defence started to leak like the proverbial sieve as they missed tackles, ran weird defensive lines, and allowed all kinds of holes to open up across the field.

The New Zealand press are raving over the performance of Brodie Retallick, and rightly so, he had a superlative game, but the moment that stands out for all Retallick supporters was his 62nd minute try! He sold an outrageous dummy, bought by Bernard Foley, and then strode rather than sprinted 35 meters to score, unopposed. How was it that a) an international flyhalf could be dummied by a big, lumbering lock forward, b) he could find a gap in the Aussie defence line, c) then run unopposed for 35m to score a try? The look on his face was priceless, as he knew that he had suckered the Aussies, one and all. All of Will Genia, Reece Hodge or Bernard Foley could, and probably should, have run him down, but did not get anywhere near him! Israel Folau, the last line of defence was nowhere to be seen. (Folau was to hobble off the field with an ankle injury just 2 minute later.)

The reality is that the Aussies had run out of steam and simply could not muster the energy to chase him!

Remember that this was in the 62nd minute and at that moment the score was 19-6 to the Kiwis. A fully fit and focussed international team would have seen it as a difficult challenge, but not an insurmountable one, to claw back the 13-point deficit and try and win the game.

Sadly, though, the Wallabies were running on empty.

Some might suggest that it is fatigue after a long, draining Super Rugby season, but the truth is that the All Blacks played a much longer season as four of their teams were involved in the playoffs, versus just the Waratahs in Australia. The Aussies are unfit, Period.

Any discussion or analysis of this match would be remis if it did not mention the woeful display by the Australian forward pack. Much had been made of the improved Aussie scrum and lineout, but the truth was that they were simply and brutally dismantled at the set-piece. The New Zealanders chose their moments to target the Wallaby scrum, holding back on a couple, and then doubling the pressure on others, with five special efforts where they wreaked havoc. The final scrum stats read 100% for the All Blacks and just 75% for the Wallabies, with plenty of that 75% also being retreating ball.

The Wallaby lineout was so poor that it looked to all as if it were actually an All Black attacking weapon. They won six of the Wallaby line-out throws. The Aussies contrived to lose two more lineouts through skew throws, winning just 5 of the 13 opportunities they had to put the ball in from the touchline. A 38,5% lineout success rate does not bode well for winning Test matches!

The contest for the ball on the ground was expected to feature David Pocock and Michael Hooper chasing and getting to the ball fractionally ahead of the All Black loosies. Somehow it was only Pocock who seemed to be in the contest as Hooper, weirdly, hung back out of the breakdowns and provided no support to Pocock’s attempts to get to the ball. For once, the Aussies lost the turnover battle 6 to 8.

The run-up to this test also placed a number of players from both sides under the magnifying glass.

Beauden Barrett has had an ordinary year, by his own lofty standards. On Saturday he showed why he is the best international flyhalf in the world, despite a rusty start. It was a classy performance. A magnificent individual try, with some clever footballing skills as he kept the dribbled ball on his right, and away from the chasing defenders, was followed by a superbly weighted cross-kick to give Waisake Naholo his second. He was the calm general again, marshalling the All Black defence and then the attack superbly. Richie Mo’unga may have to wait another week or two for his turn.

Israel Folau is supposed to be the Wallaby spearpoint on attack, both with the ball in hand and, especially, when chasing the kicked ball.  In reality, he was simply missing in action. We have spoken about the fact that he simply does not go looking for the ball, he seems almost work-shy as he waits for a playmaker to set him into space, and that was not happening against the All Blacks. Their rush defence simply shut down the pipeline of ball from Foley, Genia and Kurtley Beale, with the result that Israel Folau simply never got into the game.

In the week preceding this game the media reported on Folau’s statements that he was looking forward to chasing the high ball and that he would not change anything about the way he went about competing for those kicks.

Weirdly, the Aussie playmakers did not attempt to create any opportunities for Folau to chase the ball, allowing the All Black back three all the time in the world to catch and return kicked ball.

In a strange twist of fate, the only time that Folau actually jumped to contest a high ball, he landed badly, twisted his ankle, and hobbled off the field never to be seen again.

During the mid-year Tests against the Irish, the Aussies used the very short kick-off restart for Folau to chase. He caused the Irish some real problems with that tactic. On Saturday the Wallabies had plenty of kick-offs, yet they only used the short-kick option once Folau had left the field.

The final score, six tries to 1, reflects very fairly on this game.

Some stats just to round off our brief discussion:

The All Blacks carried the ball 148 times, making 731 meters with the ball in hand. The Wallabies carried it 124 times, making 444 meters.

The All Blacks beat a massive 41 defenders, the Wallabies just 13. There were 23 clean breaks by the All Blacks, and 17 by the Wallabies.

The tackle counts are interesting! The All Backs made 118 tackles and missed 13. A 90% tackle success rate.

The Wallabies made 126 tackles, but missed a whopping 41 tackles! A low 75% tackle success rate.

The rest of the stats are not really worth in-depth analysis. If you watched the game you got the picture.

One special word must be said about David Pocock.

He has again shown why he is one of the finest sportsmen in the world. When Ryan Crotty went down unconscious from the head knock, Pocock ignored the battle going on around him and went straight over to Crotty, kneeling next to him to check on him, and then stayed with him until help arrived.

It speaks of his character and the type of person that he is.

Thank you David, for reminding us that this is still just a game and that the people playing the game are more important than any victory.

The Crowd

66,318 filled the sets at ANZ Stadium.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Try: Maddocks
Con: Foley
Pens: Hodge, Foley

For New Zealand:
Tries: A Smith, Goodhue, B Barrett, Retallick, Naholo 2
Cons: B Barrett 4

Teams:

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Jack Maddocks

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Tim Perry, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown