Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: All Blacks approaching new level

The Bledisloe Cup is safe for another year and now the All Blacks can look forward to the rest of the Rugby Championship knowing they are easily the best team in the competition and yet have plenty of room for improvement.

The Wallabies were so shellshocked after the 22-0 defeat at Eden Park last night they claimed the world champions had taken their game to another level and that they were fortunate to be able to stay with them.

How that positions them mentally for their next match - against South Africa in Perth in a fortnight - is anyone's guess but it probably won't be difficult for the All Blacks to get on top psychologically ahead of their next meeting in the dead Bledisloe Cup rubber in Brisbane on October 20.

Steve Hansen was so relaxed before last night's match he waved to someone in the crowd before kick-off. Afterwards he wore the expression of a man satisfied with his lot, and for good reason. By contrast his old sparring partner Robbie Deans had the haunted look of someone under extreme pressure.

He knows the knives are sharpening in Sydney and beyond.

The All Blacks won this match in a canter. Their fitness, speed of thought, ambition and directness were in a different class to the Wallabies, who are ranked No2 in the world. Deans' men scrapped hard and did well to survive the final 30 minutes without conceding another point but they hardly threatened to breach the home side's defence.

It is the first time in 50 years the All Blacks have kept the Wallabies to nil, although the Australians turned down several kicks at goal.

Hansen's men made mistakes and should have scored at least three more tries but for handling errors from Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, all of whom otherwise had excellent games.

"We're trying to play a game that's good high intensity and high accuracy,'' Hansen said today.

"We just haven't managed the high accuracy yet but it does ask a lot of questions of the opposition. We know we're a fit side but it does mean we have to be really effective as ball carriers and win the collision and get that quick ball. There's permutations right across the park with how we want to play so we've just to be better and better and more accurate.''

Cory Jane, who had a busy game on the right wing added succinctly: "It was pretty bloody fast. We want to play at that tempo but probably want to be a bit more disciplined with the ball.''

Lock Luke Romano is the only player with injury issues as the All Blacks disperse before assembling again next week to prepare for the match against Argentina in Wellington on September 8.

Hansen said the Crusaders lock hurt the same shoulder he has had a problem with this season but it wasn't likely to be serious.

Loosehead prop Tony Woodcock should be available to play the Pumas after sitting out last night's test with sore ribs, but the most pleasing bulletin following Sonny Bill Williams' exit is the fact that Conrad Smith is on track following his break with an eye injury.

Williams has proven to be an important part of the All Blacks' midfield this season and they need a replacement of Smith's calibre.

While several players will be released for their ITM Cup games this weekend, Hansen said Wellington's Smith wouldn't be one of them.

"We're confident in his fitness. He's proven before that he can come in and do the job so that's what we'll be doing.''

Hansen watched Argentina draw 16-16 with South Africa in Mendoza this morning, the Springboks launching a second-half comeback, and he had his suspicions about how the Pumas will play in Wellington confirmed.

"They're going to be real physical up front and they'll play that bash game ... They were like two big rhino bulls last night and hopefully they took a fair bit out of each other. I can't imagine them wanting to play an expansive game, they're more comfortable using their forwards and that's what we'll expect but I guess we'll have to plan for the other as well.''

All Blacks 22 (Israel Dagg try; Dan Carter 5 pens, con)
Wallabies 0

- APNZ

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