All Blacks rise another level

By Gregor Paul in Dunedin

NEW ZEALAND 41
AUSTRALIA 33

Anything the All Blacks can do, the All Blacks can do better. Brilliant against South Africa, they were somehow at a level above tonight.

Absorbing, relentless, brutal, deft, subtle, flexible, direct, brave - they were all of that and more.

They were, unquestionably, impossible to defend against: the point of attack was wherever they wanted it to be.

They were a threat when they defended; they were a threat when they kicked and they were most definitely a threat when they passed and ran.

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And here's the crazy thing - Australia played better than they have all year. But what were they to do? They fronted, they gave all they had, cleverly attacked the right channels, recycled, tackled and still got blown off the park. They scored tries not many other teams would have had the flair or imagination to sniff out and yet they were always chasing without ever convincing they were going to quite get there.

But the All Blacks will need to be wary - the Wallabies used Israel Folau well, Will Genia came good and they are on the right track.

But there is still a gap between them which begs the question: how good are these All Blacks? Definitive statements on that will have to wait, but when they score 30 points in a half while conceding the territory and possession stakes by a distance, then they cleanly have a fair idea what they are doing with the ball.

It's the clinical and ruthless way that they attack which sets them apart. So often the lament in the modern game is of chances missed: of precision only up to a point. The All Blacks haven't left much, if anything on the field this season and were operating at an incredible one attack-one try ratio that left the Wallabies dazed.

The movement, the awareness, the skill, the speed - it was devastating. The pressure the All Blacks exerted was total. Kieran Read and Sam Cane were immense at stopping Wallaby runners on the gainline, lifting and driving them back and then this black wave would swarm over the ball and they'd be off. Defence one second, attack the next and runners were everywhere, queuing up, knowing the man in possession would have the ability to make the pass before, through or after contact.

Cane needs particular mention because he filled every inch of his No 7 shirt. He graduated from being in all the right places to being in all the right places and doing all the right things.

He had both presence and presence of mind to own the contact zones and perhaps, finally, demand to be seen as Sam Cane rather than the bloke standing in for Richie McCaw.

The physical contest wasn't really anything of the sort - that's the best way to sum it up. The world knows the Wallaby tight five love nothing more than a girls night in, with a weepy movie and a bottle of Chardonnay - but they ditched the handbags and got stuck in. That they came off second best was down to the technical excellence of the All Blacks.

They held their line to the point where they would isolate a ball carrier, double team and keep him off the ground. Charlie Faumuina was frighteningly good at it, twice stripping the ball in a flash.

It was demoralising for Australia. All that effort, all those phases and only as they turned to chase back did they realise they had been pawns in the All Blacks' game-plan: that all the time, the All Blacks were keeping them where they wanted them, just biding their time to pounce.

What also helped in that regard was the tenacity of New Zealand's scrambling defence and solidity in the tackle when they needed it.

No one did more on that front Charlie Piutau. Early in the game he managed to halt Israel Folau twice in 20 seconds.

Not only was his defence outstanding, but so too was his wider contribution. He danced away from the touchlines when he had to, chased high balls and was always on hand.
The power and work-rate of Ma'a Nonu was a big part of the offering as was the composure and spark of Israel Dagg.

New Zealand 41 (J. Savea, S. Cane, A. Cruden, K. Read tries; A. Cruden 3 pens, 2 cons; B. Barrett pen) Australia 33 (A. Ashley-Cooper, M. Toomua, T. Kuridrani tries; Q. Cooper 3 cons, 3 pens, DG)

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