by Roger Childs
Decisive win in the first Bledisloe Cup Test
You can’t argue with a score line of 47-26 and the Australians are halfway towards regaining the Bledisloe Cup after 17 years. Their victory was comprehensive and they score six tries to four.
Would they have won if Scott Barrett hadn’t been red carded in the 39th minute for an illegal shoulder charge? The question is hypothetical and the reality is that the Wallabies had a big win which will give them the self-belief that they can roll the All Blacks in Auckland next Saturday and take the Trans-Tasman rugby trophy.
A highly entertaining game
The crowd of more than 60,000 witnessed an excellent game of rugby. There were ten quality tries based on superb continuity, hard running and wonderful handling skills.
The home side had the better of the first half and dominated possession. However, the All Blacks were leading two tries to one when the break came, but they knew that in the second half they would be down to 14 men against a fired-up Australian team.
In the end the Wallabies scored four further tries to the All Blacks two and being a player down told in the end. The home side showed tremendous commitment in the second forty minutes and had the superiority in the forwards and the lion’s share of possession. Despite plenty of fierce tackling from the All Blacks, having the extra man meant that the Australians were able to score the decisive tries.
A great all-round effort
This was very impressive team performance from the Wallabies. Nic White at half back shaded Aaron Smith and as well as firing out quick passes to his backs, he was always dangerous when he ran with the ball from the base of the scrum. The outside backs all played well running at speed and backing each other up. Reece Hodge showed plenty of pace to score two tries and Kerevi broke a couple of tackles to set Hodge up for a try at a crucial point in the second spell. Kurtley Beale at full back came into his own in the second half and his tricky running contributed to two tries.
In the forwards captain Michael Hooper led by example and was dangerous with ball in hand and made his usual turnovers in rucks. Prop Scott Sio and other tight forwards scrummaged well and featured in some powerful runs up the middle.
All Blacks best performance?
After a narrow win in Argentina and a draw in Wellington, there were some positive signs that the All Blacks were getting back to the open, running style of rugby they like to play. But they started poorly and it was only in the second quarter that they began to play with more imagination and flair, and the outcome was two impressive tries.
The decision to play Beauden Barrett at full back and Richie Mo’hunga at first five generally worked well. Barrett’s positional play was first class and a number of times he injected pace in the backline and he scored near the posts in the second half with an excellent jinky run. Ngani Laumape was on earlier than expected after Jack Goodhue suffered a first half hamstring injury. He tackled strongly, always made ground when running at the opposition and scored a superb individual try late in the second half.
There is no way that SBW is a better option than Laumape. Rieko Ioane was better than in Wellington, but he still not getting involved enough when the play is not running his way.
The All Blacks forwards were shaded by the Wallaby pack, but it was pleasing to see a much improved performance by captain Kieran Read. He toiled well in the tight, and is clearly now much fitter than in the earlier tests. Ardie Savea was the standout forward for the visitors with plenty of strong running, fierce tackling and he matched Hopper in the rucks. He often ran quickly from the back of the scrum to link up with the backs, especially in the second half when the forward pack was down to seven. Dane Coles was the best of the tight forwards – he threw superbly into the lineouts and always looked dangerous with ball in hand especially on the flanks.
But mistakes cost the All Blacks dearly. There were some dumb penalties given away and Scott Barrett’s idiotic no-arm shoulder charge on Hooper ensured that the visitors would always struggle to hold out the Wallabies in the second half. Missed tackles on the right flank allowed White to score in the second half, and a serious lapse in front of the posts, when the right hand side of the ruck was left undefended, allowed Samu Kerevi to dive over unopposed.
All on at Eden Park
The return match at Eden Park next Saturday will be fascinating. The Wallabies will be fired up knowing that the All Blacks are beatable and that a win or a draw will give them the Bedisloe Cup for the first time in many years.
The home side will realise that they have played three tests without being very convincing. However, there were signs in Perth that they were starting to get back to the style of rugby they like to play and if they avoid anyone being sent off, would be favoured to win a the “fortress” in Auckland.