To no one's surprise, after all eight players left Sydney with a clean bill of health, the All Blacks have selected the same pack to start at Eden Park as they did in the Bledisloe opener.

No surprise because the All Blacks destroyed the Wallabies at set piece. It wasn't annihilation but it was close: a definite victory by knockout rather than a points decision.

The Wallabies didn't ever really enter the scrummaging battle, preferring instead to mostly drop before the engagement rather than endure the humiliation of being physically buckled for all to see.

They didn't shy away at the lineout, though, but were instead out-thought by a unit that was tactically smarter and athletically more able.


The insult added to injury was the lack of influence either David Pocock or Michael Hooper were able to have at the tackled ball. Neither managed to pilfer much — nothing memorable or momentous anyway — and if anything, the All Blacks looked more capable on the floor through Sam Cane, Kieran Read and of course Brodie Retallick.

If the All Blacks backs had attacked better off scrum and lineout it would have been easier to appreciate the dominance of the forwards.

Instead all six tries came from broken play and hence the awareness, skill execution and timing of the backs have won the popular vote as to why the All Blacks were able to surge in the second half.

But victory in Sydney was built on the colossal performance by the pack and with that should come the realisation that the All Blacks of 2018 are one of the great collective units.

Quite how good they are has perhaps snuck up on everyone. It was only last year the British & Irish Lions felt they could target the All Blacks forwards and own them physically.

Their initial thinking prior to arriving in New Zealand was that the pack was vulnerable - beatable at set-piece but that the All Blacks backs were in a class of their own.

And it's not just the Lions who have gravitated to this view in recent years. Most teams, especially from the Northern Hemisphere, have fancied they could dominate the All Blacks' forwards.

There is global appreciation for the marvellous ability of Retallick and ball-playing skills of Read but the general narrative from opposition teams is that they pin their hopes of victory on being able to exploit the All Blacks' forwards.


It's not that no one rates them, more that the All Blacks are seen as a team that builds its success on its speed, ball handling and natural athleticism rather than set piece grunt and expertise in the rugged chores.

But that's a misconception if ever there was one as the All Blacks pack that will run out at Eden Park is formidable in every sense.

There hasn't been a scrum in the last three years that has got the better of them.

The lineout is largely unflappable and probably the best defensive unit in the world game with Sam Whitelock and Read quite brilliant at stealing opposition throws.

Mostly, but not always by any means, they win the battle of the gainline and collectively they have 526 caps which is only 10 behind the pack that started the 2015 World Cup final.

If and when Dane Coles returns, the All Blacks will be regularly picking in 2018 the same tight five that started that World Cup final in 2015, with Read having also been at No8 in that game with Cane coming off the bench.

Owen Franks, Coles, Whitelock, Retallick and Read are already considered among the best ever All Blacks in their positions.

Moody is emerging into a world-class force, Liam Squire isn't so far behind and Cane, playing in a position that has yielded an unrivalled list of brilliant players such as Richie McCaw and Michael Jones is already sitting as high up it as a 26-year-old could be expected.

They are a vastly experienced, supremely drilled, highly competent, brutal, intimidating group of forwards who far from being the All Blacks' weak link are the foundation on which everything is built.

All Blacks

15: Jordie Barrett
14: Ben Smith
13: Jack Goodhue
12: Ngani Laumape
11: Waisake Naholo
10: Beauden Barrett
9: Aaron Smith
8: Kieran Read
7: Sam Cane
6: Liam Squire
5: Sam Whitelock
4: Brodie Retallick
3: Owen Franks
2: Codie Taylor
1: Joe Moody

16: Nathan Harris
17: Karl Tu'inukuafe
18: Ofa Tuungafasi
19: Scott Barrett
20: Ardie Savea
21: TJ Perenara
22: Damian McKenzie
23: Anton Lienert-Brown