If Foster’s side doesn’t front up this week, then it will get a reputation for having a soft underbelly. –Mark Reason, The Dominion Post, 14 October 2020

Not the expected win

By Roger Childs

The All Blacks and their coaches would have been expecting a win in the first Bledisloe Cup match against Australia, with the home advantage in Wellington. On paper, and in terms of experience and reputation, the home side seemed much stronger and the Wallabies were giving some players their first taste of test rugby. Coached by the experienced Kiwi Dave Rennie, they showed no fear and took the game to the All Blacks. Hodge’s long range penalty was only the width of an upright post from winning the game for the visitors.

As it turned out the 16-16 draw was probably a fair indication of the overall fortunes of the two sides in the 86 minutes of play. The All Blacks might have snatched a win if Richie Mo’unga had been given the chance for a drop kick right in front, in the last minute.

Off and on the field blunders

Foster and his coaching team made some selection errors last Sunday, such as playing Jordie Barrett on the right wing. Barrett has been the best full back in the country this year and is a commanding presence playing in the number 15 jersey. This positon allows him to have a bigger role in the game and on Sunday he was wasted on the wing with little action apart from running in an early try. Damian McKenzie was brought into full back when Beauden Barrett wasn’t available, but struggled with the high ball in the swirling wind. 

Jordie at full back and a specialist, either Sevu Reece or Caleb Clarke, on the right wing would have been sensible. Codie Taylor didn’t have great game at hooker and it would be logical to have the more experienced Dane Coles starting as rake in the second game.

The big on-field blunder was Reiko Ioane’s carelessness in failing to touch down for an easy try just before half time. He was under no pressure and made a complete fool of himself. With more focus he could have given the ABs a 15-3 lead, instead of 8-3, going into the sheds after forty minutes playing with the wind advantage.

A mixed day in the forwards

The Wallabies held their own in the battle up front and were able to secure the majority of possession. Led by the outstanding Michael Hooper they scrummed well and secured plenty of turnovers.  

ABs’ captain Sam Cane had an impressive game with plenty of fierce tackling and ruck turnovers. However, as the on-field leader he needs to more assertive, and for example should have insisted the referee check on the foul play when Mo’unga was hit with a late, no-arms barge. Why one of the assistant referees didn’t pick it up is hard to know.

The home side forwards didn’t provide the backs with enough front-foot ball and the loosies were often beaten to the rucks. Consequently the Wallabies dominated possession and the passing in the AB backs, when they did get the ball, was less than slick as they were often under pressure.

A team and tactics to win on Sunday

Hopefully Beauden Barrett will be fit to play and if so he should start at first five.  Have Jordie as full back and Richie Mo’unga on the bench to come on in the second half at first five. Caleb Clarke did enough in Wellington when he came on in the second half, to warrant the right wing selection. Hoskins Sotutu should also get a start on the flank and having Coles at hooker in the run-on team makes sense. Ioane will probably be dropped to the reserves in favour of the more experienced centre Anton Leinert -Brown.

Tactically the forwards need to be more aggressive and take the game to the Aussies. The talented AB backs need more front-foot ball. The forwards must remember their primary roles which are to contest and secure the ball. There has a been bad habit in Super Rugby games this season, where forwards have been hanging back when the opposition has been driving especially from lineouts close to the line. Five or six players will never hold back an advancing set of eight forwards.

 On defence, the ABs will need to close down one of the Wallabies stars — halfback Nic White. He was give too much room to move last Sunday. 

Confidence, commitment and concentration are essential if the All Blacks are to win in Auckland at the weekend. The long winning streak on Eden Park will have nothing to do with the result. The Wallabies showed at the Caketin that they are up for it and will be confident of success under their excellent coach Dave Rennie, going into the second test.