Blistering Aussie and Kiwi pace fires warning for Northern hopefuls
New Zealand 24
Phew! Who in the northern hemisphere is going to handle this sort of pace in the international cauldron? The Irish and British teams will be out on their feet if they have to play at this speed for the full 80 minutes.
A Bledisloe Cup match of relentless, searing pace in far away Hong Kong was not settled until the second minute of injury-time when Wallaby wing James O'Connor scampered over for the try that levelled the score.
Given that Australia had seized an early 12-0 lead, only to lose their way so much that New Zealand then led 24-12, this might have been as good as Australia could have expected in their quest to end a nightmare run of 10 successive defeats by the All Blacks. But O'Connor, at 20, one of the most precocious talents in world rugby, then slammed over the conversion to give Australia a dramatic victory with the final kick.
You could debate myriad aspects of this match, such as the errors in decision making made by New Zealand; Australia's disturbing lack of a forward platform in the set phases of scrum and line-out, plus their unreliable goal kicking. Then there was Irish referee Alain Rolland's tough refereeing of the All Blacks' forwards at the breakdown.
For me, the latter was a crucial factor in this fast and entertaining game. By penalising New Zealand four times in the first seven minutes, Rolland made it clear he wasn't going to allow the All Blacks the leeway gifted to them by some officials.
These were all intriguing, fascinating elements, but perhaps the most critical aspect of all was the pace of the game. If these two teams replicate it on their northern hemisphere tours, then heart attacks among the home countries' players are a possibility.
The players of the northern hemisphere simply do not play the game at this sustained speed. Nor are they on the same planet when it comes to ball skills and technical proficiency.
All this is possible under the IRB's new law interpretations yet incredibly, some old diehards still bemoan the possibilities of this modern game and demand the sport retreats to its mentality of endless penalty kicks. It cannot, it must not.
This was a stirring example of the spectacle that is now possible through these new interpretations. But such a wonderful game, full of enterprise, running, ball skills and vision would not have been possible without Rolland's determination to ensure fast ball was recycled from the breakdown.
New Zealand were penalised the most, 12-7, but Richie McCaw and his side got the message: they knew they had to put aside the ball-slowing tactics they will cheerfully employ under weaker referees.
New Zealand were clearly rattled early on, both by the aggression of Australia's attacks and the referee's harsh line. Tries by Quade Cooper and a brilliant solo effort by Adam Ashley-Cooper gave Australia a 12-0 lead before the wheels came off.
The Australian scrum, a source of concern for some years, was again badly exposed and their line-out was not a lot more reliable. It meant the All Blacks had fought back for a 17-12 lead by half-time and they increased it to 24-12 with Ma'a Nonu's try 13 minutes after the interval.
But another old sore, this time concerning New Zealand, then emerged. Dan Carter, out of rugby for 10 weeks, was replaced on the hour and New Zealand lost their control.
Drew Mitchell's try in the left corner made it 24-19 and New Zealand were hanging on.
A disastrous clearance from in-goal by Carter's replacement, Stephen Donald, which failed to find touch with seconds left, proved crucial. Australia ran it back close to the New Zealand line and eventually found a hole through which O'Connor burst.
Both sides were exhausted, the Wallabies launching one late 16-phase movement that must have had lungs burning all over the field.
But the one late incision of the All Blacks' solid defence proved vital.
New Zealand - M Muliaina; C Jane ( I Toeava 51), C Smith, M Nonu, J Rokocoko; D Carter (S Donald 59 ), J Cowan (A Mathewson 72); A Woodcock, K Mealamu, O Franks (O Franks 59), B Thorn, T Donnelly (S Whitelock 66), J Kaino, R McCaw (Capt), K Read.
Australia - K Beale; J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, M Giteau (B Barnes 63), D Mitchell; Q Cooper, W Genia (L Burgess 76); B Robinson (J Slipper 51), S Moore (S Faingaa 61), B Alexander, M Chisholm (D Mumm 72), N Sharpe, R Elsom (Capt), D Pocock, B McCalman.
Ref - A Rolland (Ireland)