Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Benchmark laid down for rest of test season

The seasons are blurring - five tests into 2013 and the similarities with last year are everywhere. A series win in June and a clean sweep of the Wallabies - are we talking about this year or last?

In the next three weeks, the All Blacks want to make sure the two seasons noticeably diverge: they want to deliver the lift in performance that evaded them in 2012.

Last year they kept winning, but struggled to deliver the performances they wanted. It was the mid-point of last year's Rugby Championship where they had to scramble for home wins against the Pumas and Boks.

Already they appear to be building more encouragingly in that regard. The fluctuations haven't been so extreme and their performance in Wellington was better than in Sydney.

What mattered for the All Blacks was that their set-piece came right: that was the obvious flaw in their first encounter against Australia.

They can't play the way they want without scrum dominance and certainty from the touchlines.

It's more than that, though: if they don't get that bit right against Argentina and South Africa they can forget about winning.

So to see the Wallaby scrum reduced to rubble brought as much relief as it did elation. The All Blacks have secretly fancied the new laws are right up their boulevard - that their explosive strength and superior technique will be consistently rewarded under the law.

There wasn't much sign of that last week, but with most of the glitches worked out of the system, they set a benchmark for the weeks ahead.

"I think tonight was a lot better and we scrummaged better as a unit and we got some rewards," was Tony Woodcock's succinct assessment.

His role in that dominant effort was significant and fitting on the night he became the fourth All Black centurion. It was vintage Woodcock - dynamic and ruthless - yet typically, he was keen for the spotlight to be somewhere else in the aftermath.

"I think it was about eight years ago that Shag said to me if you do things right you will be a 100-test All Black. I didn't believe him," he said about whether he had taken stock of his achievements.

When the All Blacks reconvene this Sunday, Woodcock will be his usual understated self - the events of Wellington long forgotten.

All he'll be thinking about is putting in a better shift than the last and hoping his teammates do the same.

To do that, there will need to be more focus on the breakdown as it took the All Blacks half an hour to match the intensity and aggression of the Wallabies.

And there will also be a desire to sharpen their attacking raids - while they impressed in the way they used the ball, there were still points squandered and they are striving for the perfect performance after all.

- NZ Herald

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