First Take: Weather takes backs out of contest

By Cameron McMillan

The wet conditions meant the test was a battle between both sides' engine rooms. Photo / Getty Images
The wet conditions meant the test was a battle between both sides' engine rooms. Photo / Getty Images

AUSTRALIA 12
NEW ZEALAND 12

All the pre-game talk was about the backs. Ben Smith getting the nod over Israel Dagg at fullback, Kurtley Beale being named in the Wallabies' number 10 jumper and Malakai Fekitoa being handed a late opportunity to start at centre - setting up a enthralling clash with opposite Adam Ashley-Cooper. And then the rain arrived and it was all about the forwards.

The line-breakers and impact-players rarely had a chance to shine.

Instead it was the likes of unheralded hookers Dane Coles and Nathan Charles with their steady lineout throws of a slippery ball who made a bigger impact on the test. Consistently they hit their targets as the rest of the forwards plugged away, defences held strong and penalties dominated the match.

Play opened up in the second half, helped by the All Blacks being down a man on two occasions, but the penalties continued.

Sightings of Fekitoa, Ashley-Cooper and Ben Smith were almost as rare as a try at ANZ Stadium.

From the few chances Ben Smith had - he proved yet again he's an ever-reliable option at 15. That's no surprise since he has played in all 18 tests of the record attempt. It wasn't just his impeccable takes in wet conditions that impressed but at times he also played the part of an extra loose forward. He chased his own high kick and stripped the ball off Beale, sending Aaron Smith on a breakaway which looked certain for the opening try before Coles dropped the ball.

Smith was not done showing his breakdown skills, earning a penalty that Aaron Cruden converted in the first half.

But the conditions weren't conducive to running rugby meaning Smith's line breaks were shelved for another day.

Wyatt Crockett, like Smith, has been living under the shadow of a senior All Black in Tony Woodcock for a number of years and was also given the chance to start a game with the regular loosehead out for the season. The All Black scrum was steady, but not dominant, in wet conditions and earned three points in the first half when the Wallabies pack collapsed.

But Crockett's night, which included a number of missed tackles, was a relatively short one when he was yellow-carded just before halftime. Once his time in the bin was over in the second half, he didn't step back on the field.

Smith will wear the 15 jersey again next week, Crockett may be set for another trip to the bench.

- NZ Herald

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