Tuesday 28 January 2020

How the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies today and why they're well ahead of the rest

New Zealand 29 Australia 9

New Zealand's captain Kieran Read (C) holds the Bledisloe cup during the rugby Test match between New Zealand and Australia at Westpac Stadium in Wellington
New Zealand's captain Kieran Read (C) holds the Bledisloe cup during the rugby Test match between New Zealand and Australia at Westpac Stadium in Wellington

Steve James

New Zealand reaffirmed their position as the greatest rugby side on the planet with a facile 20-point win over Australia at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

How good were New Zealand?

They were absolutely magnificent. That they were not quite as good as last weekend probably goes without saying, simply because they were playing rugby from a different planet then, but they still played some sublime stuff in retaining the Bledisloe Cup, scoring four tries and being so ruthlessly efficient at taking the opportunities when they arose.

How was Australia’s attitude this time?

It was very questionable in Sydney last weekend, but here they were determined to make a big statement early on. There might have been some unnecessary niggle and verbals, especially from Scott Fardy and Adam Coleman, but at least it showed that they were up for the battle.

What was not acceptable was Coleman’s silly late challenge on Ben Smith just before half time, earning him a yellow card and also meaning that Fardy departed as Michael Cheika decided to bring on Dean Mumm in his stead.

But it should also be said that New Zealand’s Owen Franks could be in serious trouble for a first-half incident in which he appeared to make contact with the eyes of an Australian player. Hooker Dane Coles was also probably a little fortunate to escape a yellow card for a hit on Fardy at a ruck that brought only a penalty.

What was the score at half time?

It was 15-9 to the All Blacks. They had scored two tries, both from Israel Dagg. The first owed much to Aaron Smith’s brilliant break but also featured some wonderful handling from tight-head prop Franks. Such was the disarray of the Australian defence that four or five Kiwis could have scored on the right when debutant centre Anton Lienert-Brown threw an overhead pass that found Dagg.

The second try came from a scything break from Beauden Barrett after a pass from Lienert-Brown, with Dagg doing exceptionally well to step inside the defence. There was some concern that Aaron Smith might have knocked the ball on in the build up but television referral ruled that out.

Australia had kicked three penalties, two from Bernard Foley and the third from debutant Reece Hodge, who had arrived for concussion victim Adam Ashley-Cooper. And a quite magnificent kick it was too, struck so well from inside his own half that it sailed over with the utmost ease.

How did the changes work for both sides?

Well, moving Dagg to wing and putting Ben Smith at full back certainly worked well for Dagg. His work in the air when chasing kicks was quite superb.

Lienert-Brown also had a very good debut. We keep thinking the All Blacks might have a weakness at centre but they keep turning up players like this.

The New Zealand-born Quade Cooper was roundly booed on every occasion he touched the ball, which was predictable but also very tiresome, and he badly sliced a clearance that then led to Dagg’s second try. He hurt a knee in a mid-air collision with Julian Savea at the start of the second half, but in truth was no influence upon the game whatsoever.

Moving Foley to inside centre was always a risk given his defensive frailties (as well as those of Cooper inside him) and he badly missed Aaron Smith in the lead up to Dagg’s first try.

What was the crucial score? 

Julian Savea’s try soon after half time. Coleman had returned from the bin, but that did not deter the All Blacks, who scored a splendid third try. Dagg won the ball in the air on the right, and it was Barrett’s wonderful pass that allowed Ben Smith to skip outside his man and free Savea on the left, with the winger finishing devastatingly well. Barrett, who did not have one of his better nights with the boot, converted from the touchline and it was 22-9. Australia were never coming back from that.

Man of the match

New Zealand’s Sam Cane. Yes, Barrett was stunningly good again, Coles was astonishingly conspicuous for a hooker, Dagg and Savea were wings of the highest class and Aaron Smith was controlled matters adroitly, but Cane deserves the gong for a second outstanding performance in silencing a few critics about his place at openside. I was among them because I thought he was ordinary against Wales, but he has lifted his game considerably. His second-half tackle on Michael Hooper was jaw-dropping, and the try that followed soon afterwards was just reward. 

What the two teams must do next


They will be very happy to play someone else. Playing the All Blacks when you are struggling (five losses on the bounce this season now) is no fun. For all their better endeavour here, there were familiar failings at the line out, in their tactical kicking and at the tackle area. They missed 30 tackles.

New Zealand

They march on. What happened to that transition period? They are way, way ahead of everyone else. 

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