Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks battle to draw

AUSTRALIA 12
NEW ZEALAND 12

The All Blacks unbeaten run continues but their run of consecutive victories is over. The record of 18 wins is not theirs and they can't really have much complaint about it.

They escaped in Dublin last year, but couldn't do it again last night. And in truth, they should feel they did well to hang on for the draw. Australia looked the more likely winner and on balance, played more of the rugby: exerted more of the pressure.

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Ill-discipline was the All Blacks biggest enemy. They were hammered on the penalty count and lost both Wyatt Crockett and Beauden Barrett to yellow cards.

It was crazy, maddening stuff - it was if the game never really happened. It was whistle, whistle, whistle - confusion and frustration and no one really able to make any sense of it. Australia must have collapsed about a million scrums and were only once penalised.

Still, the All Blacks know they can't use that as an excuse. They didn't play well enough. Didn't execute with dynamism or accuracy and couldn't build momentum or generate width.

While the contest didn't necessarily live up to forecasts, the weather certainly did and the latter had much to do with the former. The All Blacks, widely, weren't willing to play football in their own territory.

Their appetite for risk was considerably lower than it has been in previous Bledisloe encounters. Patience, pressure and persistence were the qualities on which the All Blacks decided to build their game-plan.

But they were never able to assert their dominance. There just wasn't enough cohesion and accuracy to capitalise on the half opportunities they created. Too many unforced errors derailed them when they were starting to threaten and they couldn't wind up and land the big punch they needed.

There were plenty of forced errors, too, in that mix and the Wallaby pack can take plenty out of their performance. They held up in all the places they needed to. Rucked hard, scrummaged well enough, got some steals at the lineout and a few good drives, too. Not bad for a pack no one rates.

And it changed the nature of the contest. The All Blacks had been expecting the Wallaby backs to cause all the problems.

Which is why there had obviously been some deep and accurate analysis of the Wallaby back three to determine how they would align themselves on defence. None of the All Black kicking was predictable or wasted. Israel Folau wasn't able to inject himself into the game through kick return counter attack.

The All Blacks were too smart for that. They used the conditions well - nudging well-placed short kicks into that tricky place where the defensive back three are torn between coming forward or leaving it to the midfield to scramble back.

The tactic was employed as much to frustrate Australia as it was to be effective. The All Blacks had suggested pre-game that the Wallabies would try to run the legs off them and the longer New Zealand could keep them bundled up tight, unable to break loose, the more likely it was Australia would try to force the issue.

The more likely it was they would push a pass that wasn't on or spill possession. That was the theory. But Australia didn't really play their part.

The fact their front five held together afforded them possession and confidence. They could see there was no need to panic: they were in the thick of it and didn't need to take risks.

They just needed to keep the ball and trust in the referee to give them the decisions they were after.

Australia 12 (K. Beale 4 pens)
New Zealand 12 (A. Cruden 4 pens)

- NZ Herald

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