Monday 23 July 2018

Brendan Fanning: Convincing All Blacks win doesn't dampen appetite for rematch

Sonny Bill Williams of the All Blacks makes a break during The Rugby Championship Bledisloe Cup match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks yesterday. Photo: Getty
Sonny Bill Williams of the All Blacks makes a break during The Rugby Championship Bledisloe Cup match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks yesterday. Photo: Getty
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

When a team scores two tries in three minutes in a game that was barely clear of its first quarter, it has a tendency to take the edge off things. And where there is no edge often there is little interest. Well, by half-time in Sydney yesterday that team had rattled up six touchdowns - a record in that time-frame in the fixture - and despite the debate as to the likeliest victor being over, you still showed up for the second half. Such is the attraction of the All Blacks.

It's unlikely the Australians see them that way. The 2,158km across the Tasman from Sydney to Auckland is frequently too close for comfort. The upside is that playing them so often has made the Wallabies a handful for everyone else. The downside comes with the pain endured in almost always playing a team better than you are.

To be doing it just now is especially bad timing. Australian rugby is in turmoil. Severing the limb that was the Western Force has been traumatic. Perth maintain they have the third biggest rugby population in the country and the Force were an outfit who, unlike the Rebels - who survived the cut - have the backing of a private benefactor.

But they have become Australia's victims of the Super Rugby cost-cutting exercise. And unlike South Africa's Cheetahs and Southern Kings, they are in the wrong time-zone for a parachute into this corner of the rugby world.

So no surprise that ANZ Stadium was far from full. No surprise either that New Zealand were bristling after their drawn series with the Lions. The hard-to-fathom bits were how, after a month to prepare, the Wallabies were so disjointed in defence. Seemingly it was a new system they were using.

And that despite the stunning form of the All Blacks, the world champions still managed to lose the second half of a Test match for the third time on the trot - the first time that has happened since 1996. In a world of 'work-ons and takeaways' you can imagine what Steve Hansen will be highlighting in the review.

So the All Blacks will be annoyed that they lost the try count 4-2 after the break (the final score was 34-54). The Wallabies will be mortified that they were 40-6 behind. They conceded again a couple of minutes into the second period courtesy of another young man with a stellar future.

This was Damian McKenzie's third Test, and first international try, and he hasn't skipped a beat in the transition from the Chiefs to the national side. He looks like the type of player who will get better quickly in this company.

And it was a handy collection, stronger than the one that finished the Lions series, despite the absence of the excellent Jerome Kaino. In Kaino's absence Liam Squire got to enjoy some limelight. He looked like a 400m runner getting over for the first try. How the ball got into his hands was instructive: the vision and skill of Beauden Barrett to spot what was on and deliver the perfect cut-out pass; but then three of the four players in space were forwards. Brodie Retallick, Kieran Read and Squire all produced catch and pass skills from the top drawer.

The speed and aggression with which they carried this out was compelling. If you remember the quality of their opening half hour against France in Cardiff in the quarter-final of the 2015 World Cup, then this was another chapter of the same story.

There wasn't a hint of weakness in any area of their game, so it will be interesting to see how things unfold in the rematch, indoors, in Dunedin on Saturday.

It's a certainty that Michael Cheika will harangue his players from dawn 'til dusk over their defensive frailties. Where he wanted line speed in Sydney he got sluggish spectators. Yet Hansen too has the ideal fuel to fire his own side up some more. With perfect conditions guaranteed it will be worth the short wait.

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