Nick Farr-Jones

Australian rugby great Nick Farr-Jones on the Rugby World Cup

Nick Farr-Jones: Outstanding All Black pack rivals its brothers of '87

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Israel Dagg was causing problems for the Australian defence right from the opening whistle. Photo / Ron Burgin
Israel Dagg was causing problems for the Australian defence right from the opening whistle. Photo / Ron Burgin

It is worth reflecting that in past Rugby World Cups, only one team stood head and shoulders above the pack. They were the All Black band of 1987 in the tournament's inaugural event.

In that event New Zealand won and daylight came second. They would go on to dominate world rugby for two and a half years. I am sure their brothers of 2011 will make sure they don't get in front of themselves this week, but, with one match remaining, this All Black team looks destined to replicate the '87 achievement.

They were just too good on Sunday night against a determined Australian team. You can only play as well as you are allowed and yet again the Wallabies were shut down across the paddock. I can't recall a time when we threatened the opposition line. The loss to injury of Kurtley Beale was a setback but I can't imagine even his attacking genius would have made a great impact.

From the opening whistle the All Blacks showed their intention of playing a fast and expansive game, constantly recycling quick possession and interchanging between forwards and backs. They are the greatest exponents of ball-in-hand complete rugby and after 15 minutes the Wallabies had missed a tackle for each minute. They seemed stunned at the pace of the game and the tactics of New Zealand were well devised and brilliantly executed.

I was impressed with the young Aaron Cruden, who was given at the 11th hour the enormous job of inheriting the Black 10 jersey. I had been told by the likes of Murray Mexted and Grant Fox, who had mentored the youngster two years ago at the rugby academy, that he was smart and tough and a good decision-maker, but he had been thrust onto the biggest stage of world rugby with huge boots to fill.

He executed his job very well and, while there were some expected lapses, his general maturity and calmness was the standout for me. He seemed to thrive on the business of the game, such were the tactics of his team, and was constantly realigning with his troops for more thrusts into the Wallaby defensive lines.

His coolness in keeping the scoreboard ticking with a well-executed first-half drop goal again showed this New Zealand team have many ways of putting oppositions to the sword. I can now understand why he was chosen to captain the under-20 team to world supremacy and New Zealand have found their heir to the king of No10s, Dan Carter.

But, as always, the backs could not have prospered if it wasn't for the platform being laid up front. This All Black pack as a group are as good as their outstanding brothers of '87. It is hard to single out any individuals in such a well-drilled unit. The tight five are uncompromising doing the stuff that has to be done in deep, dark places. From the opening whistle they are relentless in turning the heat up on their opponents and don't give a mug an even break.

The New Zealand back row were again complementing each other. You could have fooled me that their captain, Richie McCaw, was on one leg. He seemed to live in the pocket of halfback Will Genia and made life for the cornerstone of the Wallaby team tough. McCaw should deservedly be hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup on Sunday night.

The execution by the All Blacks was perhaps best exemplified by the outstanding play of the New Zealand back three. Time after time they soared to retrieve high balls with unbelievable precision. It is okay to do this on a dewy evening at training with no opposition, but under the pressure of sudden death tournament rugby with millions of viewers and a horde of competing jerseys desperate for the ball, the execution was outstanding.

It is what winning these matches is all about. Doing your job as well as you can while minimising the errors.

As for the Wallabies, they were far from poor, simply outclassed. There will no doubt be some knives out as always when a favoured team hits the wall, but for me this is not the time for post mortems as to what went wrong and who didn't turn up. Let's leave that and agree we ran into an outstanding, once-in-a-decade team of champions.

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