Five things we learned from the Bledisloe Cup Test
August 17, 2013
Ben Smith was at the centre of everything the All Blacks did well © Getty Images
It was business as usual for the All Blacks as they thrashed the Wallabies 47-29 in Sydney on Saturday. But what did we learn from the match, and what are the key talking points from the Test? ESPNscrum gives some answers.
Richie McCaw has still got it, but is a little bit rusty
It was the first game back for the master and while the sight of him smiling at the full-time whistle with yet another win over the Wallabies to his name, a record 24th to be precise, is nothing new, him being penalised by Craig Joubert three times in the first-half would have brought a grin to most Australian supporter's faces. He managed to get a try, his 20th for the All Blacks, but he is yet to re-find the invisibility cloak which he has donned at the breakdown for much of his career. He's still world class, no doubt about that, but at times the young apprentice Michael Hooper seemed to have the skipper rattled.
Peerless All Blacks have luck on their side
At moments during the game, Ewen McKenzie must have looked to the heavens and wondered exactly what forces were conspiring against his side. He would have been used to playing premier sides at the Suncorp while in charge of the Reds but the All Blacks were an altogether different kettle of fish. And when you are as good as the Kiwis, the bounce of the ball seems to go your way. The previously unflappable Christian Leali'ifano was charged down for Aaron Cruden's try and referee Craig Joubert missed a possible piece of obstruction for the All Blacks' third. But when you are up against the Kiwis with their intensity, drive and downright thirst for the victory, you need every ounce of luck to be on your side.
Scrums will take time
Ben Smith was superb on the right flank © Getty Images
Oh the scrums. This was probably the first time supporters of the game got a chance to see the new 'crouch, bind, set' calling sequence in full flow. The new call will take time to blood in. Out of the 12 scrums in the match, roughly a third were whistled for a crooked feed with Joubert eventually turning to penalties to cancel this blight on the game out of the Test. But there could have been at least two more crooked feeds picked up on. Joubert also penalised Owen Franks for dropping his knee in the scrum in the second-half, something few officials would have whistled this time last year. They will take time to get right, but the scrums are going in the correct direction.
Tactical nous the difference
When the All Blacks get things right and click, no side in the world can stop them. Tactically they were brilliant. They targeted the Wallabies' left wing and Ben Smith, who is probably the in-form winger in world rugby at the moment, had a field day running down James O'Connor's channel. O'Connor is out of form at the moment and at times looked to be a liability for the men in green and gold and the Kiwis punished him. And around the breakdown, they kept on chipping away around the edges until opportunities presented themselves which they capitalised on.
In defence, the Kiwis spread themselves so laterally that Australia seldom had a chance to get in behind them. Only the genius of that mini master puppeteer Will Genia and a solid break from Adam Ashley-Cooper saw them get solid yards. They will have to find a way to get through them - whether it's using Israel Folau more centrally or getting O'Connor to come off his wing to cause the Kiwis' to drift in - if they are to win next week.
Australian ten shirt still up for grabs
While Dan Carter rested his injured calf, Aaron Cruden shone for the Kiwis. He was accurate with the boot and formed a seamless partnership with Aaron Smith at half-back. The Kiwis have a scary amount of depth in that department with Colin Slade and Beauden Barrett waiting in the wings, so unfortunately for Stephen Donald, there's no need for 'Beaver' to be keeping his eye on his mobile in Japan waiting for a call from Steve Hansen.
In contrast, the Australians are only probably slightly closer to finding a first choice option at No.10. O'Connor was ineffective during the Lions series and Matt Toomua, on debut, struggled behind a faltering back despite Genia's best intentions to inject some intensity, while Quade Cooper brought his array of flicks and steps to the game from the bench, it was far too late to make a difference in the outcome of the game. Toomua should start again next week, but he will need to find the form we know he is capable of.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.