A better performance — perhaps the upside of the rollercoaster after what should have been a loss last week. –Canterbury rugby writer, Richard Belton

A great result for the fans

By Roger Childs

The expected fireworks from the Wallabies after last week’s controversial finish in the first test, never eventuated. Ill-discipline and handing lapses cost the Australians dearly and the All Blacks cruised to a 40-14 victory, much to the delight of a packed Eden Park crowd. 

The home team was well led by an inspired Sam Whitelock, in the absence of the regular captain Sam Cane. Whitelock was one of the stars of the match — jumping effectively in the lineout, toiling in the tight and getting over the advantage line with ball in hand. He demonstrated his captaincy skills with clear messages to the players, appropriate decision making and good communication with the referee. He also showed a lot of strength and skill in scoring a well-deserved try. 

Mixed outcomes in the first half

The All Blacks led 17-0 at half time, but it should have been more. Professional fouls, which would have made Wallaby coach Dave Rennie very angry, saw the visitors play twenty minutes with 14 men. It’d hard enough playing the All Blacks with 15, however the home side should have exploited the Australians being one down far more.

In the first 20 minutes Foster’s men spent some time inside the Australians’ 22 with a succession of scrums. But instead of whipping the ball out to the speedy backs, Aaron Smith encouraged the forwards to keep pushing their opponents back and clean ball was not forthcoming. When Ardie Savea tried to take the ball from the back of the scrum he invariably stuffed it — opportunities lost.

A step up in the second half

Even though the visitors scored two late tries, the All Blacks had much the better of the play in the second 40 minutes. There were a number of significant breaks notably from Codie Taylor, Reiki Ioane and Caleb Clarke, and Samisomi Taukei’aho, Taylor and Whitelock crossed for tries.

Throughout the match, the new mid-field combination of Ioane and Jordie Barrett worked liked a charm. Barrett showed why he enjoys playing at second five running strongly, breaking tackles and breaching the defence. The coaches would have been pleased.

The All Black forwards were dominant throughout with Brodie Retallick, Tyrel Lomax and Dalton Papili’i running impressively with ball in hand. The scrum inevitably pushed the Wallabies back and apart from two botched throws from Codie Taylor the lineout was reliable.

Aaron Smith’s long, fast passes gave the outside back some room to move and Richie Mo’unga did the basics well and made good choices on when to kick. However, he was not fast enough with one clearing kick in the second half which Folau Fainga’a charged down to score the Wallabies’ first try.

The All Blacks tackling was excellent throughout which meant the Wallabies had few chances to make breaks and score tries

Head coach looking good

Having been under great pressure for his head coach job a few weeks ago, Ian Foster has seen his team win the last three tests. 

Also very satisfying was winning the Four Nations competition on points difference over the weekend, which added another trophy to the cabinet.

A key reason for the turn-around in the All Blacks fortunes after four losses in the first six tests has been the changes in the coaching staff. Crusaders forward coach Jason Ryan has put some steel into the All Blacks pack and former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, who is one of the great thinkers of the game, has improved the combinations and tactics.

The way ahead

The All Blacks now travel to the British Isles in November to play Wales, Scotland and England, with a game against Japan along the way. 

With the World Cup looming next year, there must now be some confidence that the New Zealand team is building nicely after the form wobbles in July and August.