Saturday 16 December 2017 / 11:53 PM

BLEDISLOE 2 ROUND-UP

The Bledisloe Cup remains in New Zealand after the All Blacks won 29-9 against an improved Wallabies outfit.

THE GAME

The opening score came via a one-two punch from the All Blacks’ midfield. Malakai Fekitoa had a strong run up the middle of the park, and from that ruck the ball went wide to debutant Anton Lienart-Brown, who netball-passed it over Adam Ashley Cooper to Israel Dagg, who strolled over the try-line.

The Wallabies clawed back with two penalty goals to the All Blacks’ one, before until Dagg got his second try in the 22nd minute from a movement kick-started by man of the moment Beauden Barrett. There was quick ball from the ruck and Barrett, who was at first receiver, put the foot down and sliced through the defence. He then drew in three defenders to put Dagg away in the corner.

Dagg still had work to do, but with a right-foot step he bumped off Quade Cooper and carried Israel Folau and Michael Hooper over the line with him. Rebels youngster Reece Hodge came on for Adam-Ashley Cooper, who went off with concussion, and was given the tough task of kicking a 52-metre penalty goal with one of his first touches. The monster kick flew through the posts at the 34th minute – and he would of nailed it from 60 metres back.

Just before the half, though, new Wallaby Adam Coleman got a yellow card for a very late and a very obvious shoulder-charge on Ben Smith after he passed the ball. Wallaby legend John Eales labelled it “stupid” after the game. That took the teams into the halftime break with the All Blacks slightly in front 15-9, and with an extra player on the field.

In the second stanza the All Blacks scored two converted tries in the 47th and 62nd minutes. The first one to Julian Savea was scored down the left-hand side with simple passing and a poor covering tackle from Semu Kerevi, and the second went to Sam Cane after a sniping run from Ben Smith, who beat six defenders and left Cane  virtually unmarked on the right-hand side five metres out.

The Australians definitely came to play, unlike last week’s Sydney embarrassment. Their intentions were clear straightaway, with a lot of niggle and push-and-shove. This tactic was aimed at unsettling the All Blacks, and you could suggest that it worked for parts of the game – but there was too much skill and class by the All Blacks for them to let it bother them for long periods of time.

It was a much better defensive effort from Australia in this game, only missing 27 tackles compared to 40 a week earlier, but in saying that most of those 27 missed tackles weren’t tackles – they just fall off the player. The tackles were made with intent and they tried to win the contest but unfortunately missed. The Wallabies showed a lot of ticker, which they should’ve shown last week.

The All Blacks’ defence was outstanding, working as a unit and only missing 10 tackles all game. The Wallabies weren’t able to put their attacking wares on display, as when they did have the ball it wasn’t quality and they generally had to kick it away. Their lineout was an issue again, winning only eight of 12 from their own throw. Stephen Moore’s wayward efforts looked like he was throwing it to the All Blacks on purpose.

The game was a fairer indication of the gulf between the two teams, compared to last week’s annihilation. Both teams gave it their all but the New Zealanders just have the upper hand at the moment with superior defence and skill.

THE PLAYERS

The inexperienced All Blacks midfield stepped up this week, with debutant Anton Lienert-Brown was a revelation in the 12 jersey. The New Zealand public can breathe a sigh of relief to know that they still have the depth at that inside-centre position.

Ben Smith was outstanding back in his favoured fullback role. Every time he touched the ball it look like something was going to happen, while his run to lay on Cane’s try was magical.

Israel Dagg looked comfortable on the wing scoring two tries, while Sam Cane looked the goods at No.7, staving off the challenge of Ardie Savea. Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have got their groove back and looked like monsters out there, stealing lineouts, hitting rucks hard and making metres with the ball in hand. No All Blacks played poorly…it’s a different story for the Wallabies, however.

There are still some bright lights in the Wallabies camp with the return of Will Genia, who played a great game at halfback. His forwards got him some momentum and he was able to use his feet and make plenty of metres when running the ball.

Israel Folau is always a top-three player in any team he plays for and again he played well on Saturday. The switch to centre might be the go for him so he can get his hands on the ball more. I must admit I am not a fan of Dean Mumm, but when he came off the bench he made an impact and used ‘controlled niggle’ to upset the All Blacks’ forward pack a little bit. ‘Pooper’ – the David Pocock-Michael Hooper combination – was good as always, with high work-rates from both players, combining for 16 runs and 16 tackles between them.

Now the bad stuff.

Samu Kerevi needs to be playing in the No.12. He looked out of place at outside centre and he would be better used as a battering ram one place closer to the ruck, where he can use his feet and fend to break the line.

Dane Haylett-Petty needs to either be playing fullback or not be in the team at all – his defence on the wing is terrible. Speaking of terrible defence, Quade Cooper lived up to his infamous reputation even when he was hidden at fullback, missing three tackles with at least one leading to a try.

Stephen Moore is a great Super Rugby player, but he is definitely over the hill and his lineout throwing is questionable, although that could be due to the jumpers. I have also never had a captain put me to sleep with his post match speeches. I highly doubt Moore will last to the next World Cup, so it might be time to hand the reins to David Pocock captain – he will be at the World Cup and also not lose his position – and bring some younger hookers through, like Andrew Reedy or  James Hansen.

Or maybe the whole problem with this team is the coach. Although I love Michael Chieka’s honesty at press conferences, some of his game-plans – or lack thereof – are poor. Not to mention his selections, as mentioned above.

We’ll get another interesting gauge where the Wallabies are at when they face the Springboks at Suncorp Stadium in two weeks’ time. Argentina are on a roll after beating the Springboks in Salta, and they will face the All Blacks in Hamilton when the Rugby Championship resumes.

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About the author

Ryan Frisby

Sunshine Coast-based Ryan is proud product of Southland, NZ, and was unsurprisingly brought up on a steady diet of ruby union - which has led him to provide CBS with his forthright views on the 15-a-side code.

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