Victory by 20 points to the All Blacks — and one that could have been even more convincing had Dan Carter kicked better.
Carter defensively was outstanding in the All Blacks 32-12 Vodacom Tri Nations win against the Australians, but he experienced a difficult night with the boot, both when kicking at goal and out of hand. His attacking impact was also limited but it is the measure of his quality that even when he plays poorly, he can still come out of the contest having made a difference.
It was Carter’s charge down of a Stephen Larkham kick, quick regather and offload that set up the All Blacks bonus point fourth try two minutes from time. And it was a fourth try that should have come some time earlier when Carter’s cross kick found replacement lock Ali Williams, who tapped it down only for an unopposed Rico Gear to knock on five metres out.
Four tries to two was a fair indication of the All Blacks dominance and 20 points was as accurate in the difference on the night. It may even have been a bit kind to the Wallabies, given Carter’s goalkicking troubles.
The Wallabies, having scored first through a Chris Latham counter attack and Lote Tuqiri finish, were under intense pressure at scrum time and at the breakdown where the industrious Jerry Collins and Richie McCaw were too potent for the slower Australian loose-forwards, of whom Rocky Elsom was the most ill-disciplined and disappointing.
Elsom was sin-binned for a third successive professional foul with the Wallabies leading 7-0 and in his absence the All Blacks scored two converted tries within five minutes. It was a sin-binning that was always going to be probable as the cumbersome back rowers tried to slow the pace of the game at the breakdown. South African referee Jonathan Kaplan, who enjoyed a fantastic night, was not going to tolerate the cynicism and negative play of the Aussies at the breakdown and the Wallabies were never in a position to win the game.
Pre-match predictions singled out the superior All Blacks scrumming and aggressiveness at the breakdown as telling home team advantages and on both counts the All Blacks were superior. Carl Hayman was particularly brutal on young Aussie loosehead Guy Shepherdsen. And while Australia dominated possession and territory in the last 30 minutes, their attacking efforts made little impact against a black defensive wall magnificently led by McCaw and Collins, who between them made 30 tackles.
Carter made 14 tackles at flyhalf, but to put the win down to a defensive effort only would be short-changing those ugly buggers who do are the dirty work in the engine room. The All Blacks tight five was responsible for the flow of the game and Australia never recovered from the early battering. The scrum advantage gave New Zealand comfort at every put in, be it their own ball or Australia’s and the Wallabies were again forced to resort to phase play and patience.
It wasn’t enough. On 10 occasions the visitors took the ball through five-plus phases and not once did they break the All Blacks first line of defence. Their first try was a counter attack and their second came from a lineout drive near the tryline.
New Zealand’s backs were the more dangerous because of the quality of ball at their disposal. Aaron Mauger asked the most questions of the Wallabies defence and Leon Macdonald was very good when running the ball back at the Australians.
The All Blacks were as patient in defence as the Wallabies were in attack. But the aggressiveness and intensity of the defence proved decisive and the All Blacks constantly troubled Australia with a willingness to attack from any turnover ball. Some of the interplay between backs and forwards was of the highest quality, with Jason Eaton, Chris Jack and Keven Mealamu brilliant with ball in hand.
Australia only threatened from kick-offs, where Eaton missed three, and they looked dangerous when driving from the lineout. Then again, which top five team doesn’t have an advantage driving the lineout ball from five and 10 metres out?
The shoddy kick-off takes at least gives the All Blacks something to address in their week off, while Wallabies coach John Connolly knows his tight five problems are still as prominent as they were a year ago.
The Springboks wait in Brisbane and technically the Wallabies will have to find something to neutralise the Bok forward power. It should be an intruiging week as the focus shifts to Brisbane and the Boks.
In New Zealand, they will reflect on a 19th successive home win and a magical tournament bonus point. It was a win, brutal in execution and brilliant for what it showed on the scoreboard.
All Blacks - Try: Keven Mealamu (27th minute, 33rd minute), Richie McCaw (48th minute) and Isaia Toeava. Conversions: Daniel Carter (28th minute, 34th minute, 50th minute). Penalty: Carter (46th minute, 54th minute)
Wallabies - Try: Lote Tuqiri (16th minute), Scott Fava (51st minute). Conversions: Stirling Mortlock (17th minute). Penalty: