Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: A big win, a laugh, a baby - and that loss

After 14 tests - 12 victories, one draw, and one painful loss at the end - the All Blacks' year is finally over. Patrick McKendry looks at the highs and lows - in no particular order.

HIGHS

1. Running the Wallabies off Eden Park

There was back-slapping aplenty in August after the All Blacks swept the Wallabies off Eden Park with a 22-0 victory to retain the Bledisloe Cup for another year. Even Australia coach Robbie Deans got into the act, saying no one could have kept up with the All Blacks in that mood. Israel Dagg scored the only try, a minor quibble given his team's dominance. The defeat extended Australia's winless streak at Eden Park to 26 years. Steve Hansen got the most laughs afterwards with his answer to TV3 reporter Jim Kayes' loaded question (with the under-pressure Deans in mind) about whether the All Blacks coach would have kept his job had he lost to Australia like that. Hansen replied: "Jeez, Jimmy, why don't you just give me some rope and let me put it around my neck?". Which brings us to ...

2. Shag keeps it grounded

His humour is a big reason why Hansen is so well liked by his players. But until this year, his first in the top job, he rarely showed it to the media, and most of the time he hit the right note. When he saw the Rugby Championship trophy gleaming on the top table as he walked into the press conference a day after the victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires, he hastily put it on the floor with a "keep it grounded" quip.

Seeing to his players on the Twickenham pitch after the thrashing at the hands of England, he turned to the camera and with a wry smile said: "Bugger". His honesty about selection issues was also a refreshing change.

3. Carter's baby news

There were suggestions the announcement, which Dan and wife Honor, a former New Zealand hockey representative, made via their Twitter accounts, and dominated news cycles for the rest of the day, was a master plan to divert attention from Andrew Hore's moment of madness in Cardiff. Not quite. But it was amusing to watch Dan squirm under the spotlight when forced to answer baby-related questions at a press conference in London. Carter, so used to batting back the usual rugby questions in a state approaching zen-like calm, looked overjoyed when finally asked his views on the upcoming match against England. Surely a first. "Reasonable genes," Carter said of the baby due in April. Quite.

4. Julian Savea

The big bus scored three tries on debut against Ireland at Eden Park in June and two to give All Blacks fans something to cheer about at Twickenham in his final match of the year. In between it was a remarkable season for Hurricanes wing Savea, who scored nine tries in 12 tests. The 22-year-old, who did well to put his demotion after the Ireland test in Christchurch behind him, started the northern tour tied with Hosea Gear for the No 11 jersey but now must be considered as the All Blacks' best left wing. The tries he set up for Liam Messam and Luke Romano against Wales are worth another look. He has added finesse to his power.

5. Putting on a show in BA

There was relief all round when the match between Argentina and the All Blacks kicked off at La Plata Stadium in Buenos Aires. Much of the build-up had concentrated on the effect the notorious Argentine crowd would have on proceedings, which everyone - the All Blacks' coaches, players, and journalists from both countries - began to tire of. For whatever reason, the Pumas, who had pushed the All Blacks close in Wellington a few weeks earlier, decided to run everything, which backfired spectacularly. The All Blacks soaked up the early pressure then decided it was their turn to lead the tango, running in seven tries. Richie McCaw called it the All Blacks' most complete performance of the year and finally one worthy of a team called world champions. The crowd? Well-behaved and applauded McCaw's team off the pitch.

6. The combination between Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams in Hamilton

The little and large combo for the Chiefs turned it on for the All Blacks against Ireland at Waikato Stadium. Unfortunately it was over all too soon thanks to Cruden's leg injury, but the pair were virtually unstoppable for the 20-odd minutes they were on the field together. First, SBW combined with Cruden to send Sam Cane over. Then, Cruden took the ball from a midfield scrum, shaped to pass to his inside, took the tackle and flicked a pass to Williams, who ran in from 30m. Not content with that, the pair combined again from close range for SBW to go over again. Cruden's long breakout run which resulted in Ben Smith's try was one of his last acts of the game. SBW has since moved to the NRL. Here's hoping he returns.


LOWS

1. Moment of madness in Cardiff

Andrew Hore claimed he was trying to clear out Bradley Davies. He succeeded, connecting with the Welshman's jaw and sending him into unconsciousness. Like most right-thinking rugby people, the IRB took a dim view and banned Hore for five weeks, although the hooker was probably let off a little lightly.

Hore said he was disappointed with his actions and didn't intend to hurt Davies, to whom he apologised several times. Another good result for the traditional pre-judicial haircut and shave.

2. Record loss to England

Didn't quite go to plan this one, did it? Oh how we laughed at Owen Farrell's nomination for the IRB player of the year award. Turned out he gave his opposite Dan Carter, the eventual winner, a good run for his money at Twickenham. That's not all. Everything England tried worked and the opposite applied to the All Blacks, who clawed their way back into the game at 15-14 before seeing their vaunted defence quickly shredded by a set of exciting backs.

3. IRB's judicial shambles

Weak sanctions for foul play in the Rugby Championship - and the final Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane - many of which were aimed at Richie McCaw, yet IRB chief executive Brett Gosper sticks his oar in only when several Northern Hemisphere scribes don't like Adam Thomson's one-match ban for his use of the boot against Scotland. A bizarrely inconsistent process which must be fixed before next year.

4. Argentina test in Wellington

This was a great advertisement for a covered stadium. Played in awful weather, this was a tedious arm-wrestle which the All Blacks took control of only in the last quarter. The lights went out at halftime; many viewers' eyes had glazed over by then.

- APNZ

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