Rugby: All Blacks turn things around

By Gregor Paul

All Blacks 33
Australia 6

Final Tri-Nations standings

All Black skipper Richie McCaw was an inspiration in last night's 33-6 defeat of the Wallabies. Photo / Getty Images
All Black skipper Richie McCaw was an inspiration in last night's 33-6 defeat of the Wallabies. Photo / Getty Images

The world may well seem a better place this morning for the All Blacks and their coaching trio in particular.

There were four million knives pointing at their chests before last night's game - every one poised to be thrust without remorse should the All Blacks implode.

For now, the pressure has eased. The indignity of an unprecedented third defeat on home soil in one season was avoided.

The wooden spoon, arguably the very instrument the All Blacks would have made good use of had they collected it, remained in Australia's possession.

In such a bleak year, such small mercies are to be treasured. There is hope the nadir was reached in Hamilton, and maybe the first seeds of re-growth were on show in Wellington.

The lineout is still a boil on the face of the Prom queen and it could well erupt on the end-of-year tour. But it made it through last night - neither defiantly nor triumphantly - just as it should; as a means to re-start the game.

And when it comes to the All Black lineout, that will be just fine. Oscar Wilde was wrong when he said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Forwards coach Steve Hansen would love to hear silence, for his name not to be mentioned between now and the end of the year.

The first throw went over the top and hearts sank - but that was it. One wobble. Rejoice and be thankful - for now.

It was amazing what a little bit of competence did for the confidence. By the second half the All Blacks were flowing. With a bit more composure, a bit more poise and certainty with the final pass and they would have won by a street.

They were certainly never going to lose. The Wallabies barely saw the ball and when they did, they offered little. Matt Giteau was again anonymous and the All Blacks were astonishingly good on both defence and at the tackled-ball area.

It should hardly be a surprise that an All Black side under such pressure should come to the contest with a street brawler's front. This, after all, was the rugby equivalent of two pub drunks being asked to take their troubles out to the car park.

Still, given the disappointments that have been endured this season by wrongly assuming the national side will have the basics under control, it was comforting to see even such modest expectations fulfilled.

By taking the right attitude into the collision the All Blacks were prolific at the breakdown where their superior numbers and body positions saw them pilfer more ball than they had any right to take.

It wasn't just their passion that was improved - the back row had a better balance.

Richie McCaw, having taken a leading role during the week in terms of the preparation, kept on in that vein. Adam Thomson and Kieran Read hunted in his shadow and it was a fearsome sight.

McCaw at his best is an inspiration and his pack responded. Tony Woodcock sat Rocky Elsom on the seat of his pants with a thunderous tackle early in the first half and Brad Thorn rattled into every collision.

Even the debutant, Tom Donnelly, made his presence felt, hunting down George Smith before the Wallaby No 8 escaped to cause some real counter-attack damage.

There was also some astute decision-making that helped build the momentum; Jimmy Cowan, the fiery so-and-so that he is, judged it well - choosing to tap and go and make it count.

Dan Carter was the perfect foil - nudging the ball long when he couldn't see much else and there were some clever reverse kicks that tormented young James O'Connor, who was left to wonder whether he was coming or going for most of the match.

It was a smart call by Mils Muliaina to chip into space rather than bang the ball long in the build-up to Cory Jane's try.

The weight was perfectly judged with the wing managing to tip the ball past O'Connor before re-gathering and going the distance.

The execution was never quite as sharp again although much will be taken from the fact space was opening up and chances were being created. That is more than half the battle at this level and the All Blacks haven't been managing it this season.

New Zealand 33 (C. Jane; M. Nonu, J. Rokocoko tries; D. Carter 2 cons, 4 pens) Australia 6 (M. Giteau pen; B. Barnes DG).

- Herald on Sunday

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