The great All Black machine is only human after all
July 4, 2007
The All Blacks crashed to a surprise defeat to Australia © Getty Images
Suddenly the 2007 Rugby World Cup looks heaps more interesting.
Australia's sensational 20-15 win at the MCG still leaves New Zealand as favourites but it destroys the aura of invincibility and will give new hope to South Africa, France, Ireland and even England.
They will all feel they could beat Australia so now they know that victory against New Zealand is far from impossible. It was only their fifth defeat since the 2003 World Cup and it could not have come at a better time as far as the rest of the world is concerned.
Two of those defeats were against Australia and the other three against South Africa which is no real surprise.
Familiarity certainly doesn't breed contempt in rugby but it does get rid of the fear factor and I have no doubt that Northern Hemisphere countries feel the aura surrounding the All Blacks much more than their Tri-Nations opponents.
It was the manner of the win which ought to gladden the hearts of the coaching staff and the players of the other top nations. New Zealand looked vulnerable and, put under pressure they started to make mistakes - the great All Black machine is only human after all.
Richie McCaw is not superman after all - he actually missed two tackles which led directly to the winning tries.
Dan Carter's kicking game, both out of hand and for the posts, is not quite as metronomic as we were beginning to believe (although that might be down to having to use the unfamiliar and inferior Summit ball) and referees are starting to question the legality of their work around the tackle area.
Full marks to South African referee, Marius Jonker. I thought he did a terrific job. He was certainly spot-on with the match turning decision to sin-bin Carl Hayman.
I was particularly impressed with his unflustered approach - no histrionics but very firm control nevertheless - and, for once, he had the strength to follow through his warnings.
He had calmly warned McCaw that the forwards were giving away penalties every time Australia were on a roll and that there would be trouble if he failed to stop it.
So often, partly because New Zealand attack the tackle area so ferociously and quickly, they get away with it but the eagle-eyed Jonker spotted Hayman indulging in an almost brilliant piece of illegal spoiling and had the guts to exact the proper penalty.
Hayman's crime was not just simple hands in the ruck as most reported - he tackled his man legally but then, instead of allowing him to play the ball as the law requires, he used his athleticism and huge arm strength to strip it away while he was still on the ground.
Nine times out of 10 he would have got away with it because it all happened in a second but the look on his face as he was banished told you he knew it was a fair cop.
The rest of the world will be hoping it heralds a closer examination of that area by all referees.
Although Hayman's sin-binning was undoubtedly a crucial moment it was not the sole reason for Australia's triumph. True they scored 14 points whilst he was off the field but they should have scored two more tries as well.
Stirling Mortlock, who had a fine match apart from this one lapse, will be disappointed that he did not score when he was first to Stephen Larkham's grubber kick over the line - it was not so much Jo Rokocoko knocking the ball out of his hands as a lack of determination, not often an accusation that can be levelled at him.
Then, early in the second-half when Hayman was still there, Guy Shepherdson butchered the sort of chance rookie props go to sleep on Friday nights dreaming about.
If he had just barrelled for the line he would have scored, if he had passed Australia would still have scored; instead he thought about the latter, belatedly went for it and made a horrible hash of trying to roll himself over having been tackled a metre short.
Even then Australia would have scored if he had set it up one more (unnecessary) time but New Zealand escaped with a penalty.
In contrast New Zealand looked toothless - there was one good chance wasted when Rodney So'oialo knocked on but precious little else.
Australia snuffed out the previously lethal counter-attacks and their forwards, for all their problems in the set pieces, easily ran down the clock once they had their noses in front.
And the biggest bonus for the other nations? Once again the Australian scrum was a shambles and this time their line-out was not too clever either. Think what they might have done from a solid platform.
As it was they achieved the near impossible and the rest of the rugby world is grateful.
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