Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: All Blacks stamp their mark on fortress Eden Park

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All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images

Don't gloat New Zealand. Suck it up, enjoy it, revel in the Wallaby slaying and retention of the Bledisloe Cup then take stock of what's ahead.

That was convincing from the All Blacks and a superb way for them to invest in Eden Park for their only match at the World Cup venue before the tournament.

It was a psychological blow, a dagger thrust against the side rated number two in the world.

There was a firm reminder that the rugby world might flip off its axis a few times in a dozen tests between the transtasman rivals, but normally the All Blacks are supreme.

And they were on Saturday at Eden Park, a cut and thrust above the Wallabies. Older certainly, but sharper and wiser in how they attacked the test and demanded respect.

Around all these pre-World Cup machinations is the psychology of test rugby, the alternate messages delivered in public and behind closed doors.

There are the subliminal notes, the inferences and the obvious.

Make no mistake. This test was a psychological marker, a crucial point in both sides' surge towards the tournament.

The All Blacks had started the year solidly beating the less-endowed Fiji and depleted South Africa but they were still smarting from the injury-time defeat to Australia in Hong Kong.

The Wallabies knew it. They had sliced a wound in the All Black beast, they had a chance to add more sting to the festering sore. They were cocky, they had been in camp for a fortnight, they were well prepared.

The All Blacks brought in six men who had not played a test this year, they had to to get them back into test trim. Rust might have been a danger, instead rest was a virtue.

The 30-14 victory was just the sharp thrust to put the Wallabies back in their rugby cradle, remind them of their frailties and say to the rest of the world, come and get us.

A slip up at Eden Park for the All Blacks in their only appearance at the revamped arena before the World Cup would have brought out a month of angst, worry beads and pessimism.

It would have taken a team of shrinks weeks to deal with that fallout.

The team psychologists who also masquerade as Messrs Henry, Hansen and Smith got to work again on Saturday when they accepted the praise while offering clarity and moderation.

They downplayed the significance of the win, it was superb to retain the Bledisloe but it was a long way from a World Cup triumph.

It was just a start, it had little link to events starting early next month, there was a very tough road trip to come in Port Elizabeth and Brisbane.

Come on down Messrs Freud and Jung.

"If we get complacent about this victory it will be curtains I'd say," Henry said.

His team had played professionally, with great maturity and the collective defence had been outstanding. Victory must have been a heady tonic for all as Henry was obtuse at the start of the Rugby Channel media conference, asking whether the Gestapo were present and demanding the lights be turned down.

"It's a good story about a psychological advantage but there have been far too many occasions in the past when that hasn't amounted to a result in the Rugby World Cup, so I don't think it makes any difference at all," Henry added.

There was also a sobering reminder from Richie McCaw as the captain jogged memories with observations about the All Blacks' season in 2003.

They had whipped the Wallabies 50-21 in Sydney before that tournament but fell to the same opposition in the semifinal.

Much was made in Australia of the exotic talents of Quade Cooper and his ability to turn games and strike fear into opposing defences. Those sort of observations and the five-eighth's over-the-top enthusiasm at the final whistle last year in Hong Kong, sat in the All Blacks' memory banks.

Once the All Black tight five churned through their work to keep half a metre ahead of the Wallabies all night, the resultant squeeze on Will Genia and Cooper inhibited their impact.

In-your-face defence turned the game into a tortuous exam for Cooper. He is a gifted player but his array of trickery disintegrated.

An early in-goal attacking crosskick went awry and Cooper seemed to revert to long cutout passes as his only means of breaking down the All Blacks. It did not work. Defenders simply eased away from Cooper and drifted across field to put his teammates under extra heat.

Meanwhile Daniel Carter took the ball to the line and engaged defenders, he carried, he offloaded, he hit some delightful grubbers and punted for vacant areas of Eden Park. It was shades of Carter circa 2005 and the Lions series - just superb.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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