Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Deans too generous in praise of All Blacks

Talk about smokescreens. Wallaby coach Robbie Deans smothered the All Blacks in hot air as his tenuous hold on the job headed towards another crossroads.

He claimed the All Blacks had given a "masterclass in rugby" when they swept the Wallabies away 22-0 to retain the Bledisloe Cup at Eden Park.

Deans' praise was a useful diversionary tactic but as a realistic appraisal of the All Black performance it missed the mark.

There was seasoned flanker Richie McCaw talking about a "sense of blown opportunities" and coach Steve Hansen saying his side was "half an inch away from really putting in a performance which would have made us proud".

Naturally the All Blacks were still chuffed they had seen off the peril from across the Tasman again, hung onto the Bledisloe Cup for another season and kept a clean scoresheet against the Wallabies for the first time in 50 years.

They had worked ultra-hard on defence missing just six tackles out of 82, conceding only seven penalties and had made most of their lineouts and scrums stick.

The Wallabies had worked hard too, especially on defence where their heart and systems yielded just one try to All Black fullback Israel Dagg.

At other times Dagg, Liam Messam, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, McCaw and Daniel Carter were held up close, tackled or knocked on over the line.

The All Blacks should have been knocking up close to 50 points while the Wallabies, whose backline has a reputation for flair and attack, looked devoid of attacking concepts.

One more pass or a touch of caution, those were the mentions from Hansen as he assessed a night when his side cantered to victory with a gallop not far out of reach.

"We are trying to play a game that has high intensity and accuracy - we just haven't quite managed the high accuracy yet but it does ask a lot of questions of the opposition and we know we are a fit side," Hansen said.

"But it does mean we have to be really effective as ball carriers and win the collision and make sure we get that quick ball so there are permutations right across the park in how we want to play."

Strength and conditioning coach Nic Gill had done a tremendous job getting the side to a peak of fitness and he was probably undervalued by the public because they did not understand what he did. However, he played a crucial role in honing the side to be able to play the pattern the coaches wanted, Hansen said.

Everyone was encouraged to be multi-skilled, to perform their own core roles first and then to bring the extra bits of finesse to their game.

If the forwards in particular could do that, then the All Blacks would have a greater range of methods to challenge their opposition.

Backline general Daniel Carter said there was great pride in retaining the transtasman silverware but also a bit of frustration that the side lacked patience to really put away the Wallabies.

"We realise we need to improve and teams are going to analyse us a lot more. We won pretty comfortably and we still felt there were a lot of areas to improve on," he said.

They had been guilty of trying to score too quickly rather than build phases and pressure.

The Wallabies had defended strongly but the All Blacks left the field thinking they had blown a chance to claim a huge victory.

For the next test, Carter would be likely to have Ma'a Nonu as his midfield partner for the first time this season with Sonny Bill Williams heading to Japan.

Nonu preferred to play second five-eighths and seems certain to play there on his Cake Tin home track in a fortnight against Argentina.

- NZ Herald

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