• Switch Edition
Follow
ESPNscrum Columnist
Brett McKay
Brett McKay | Columnist Index
One of the new breed of Australian online rugby writers, Brett McKay joins ESPNscrum.com having developed a popular presence on sports opinion site The Roar. He also tweets from @BMcSport.
Scrum Five
All Blacks will batter someone
Brett McKay
August 25, 2013
Steven Luatua and the All Blacks are yet to click in 2013, Brett McKay believes © Getty Images
Enlarge

We examine the talking points from the Bledisloe Cup Test at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, where the All Blacks won 27-16 on Saturday night to claim the trophy for the 11th successive year. Debate the issues via the comments box at the bottom of the page, or jump onto Twitter and tell the world using the #ScrumFive hashtag.

When New Zealand finally click, someone is really going to get belted

Match Analysis by ESPNscrum's Andy Withers

  • Man of the Match: Ben Smith bagged another brace of tries to go with his hat-trick in Sydney, but Steven Luatua produced a performance to have All Blacks selectors and fans alike asking "Liam Who?" when Messam is fit to resume. The Blues and All Blacks tyro confirmed the high opinion of admirers with his physicality in the loose, line-breaking ability with ball in hand, and soft hands in a number of movements.
  • Key Moment: Kieran Read pulled down a midfield bomb in the 25th minute, and the All Blacks put the ball softly through hands, including Luatua's mitts, on the right side to send Ben Smith clean through for his first try. New Zealand had barely been in the game to that point, but the try, converted from the sideline by Tom Taylor, saw momentum shift towards the hosts, who were never thereafter going to lose the match.
  • Hero of the Game: Tony Woodcock became only the fourth New Zealand All Blacks player to rack up a century of Test caps, and only the fifth prop, and he produced an immense performance in the set-piece to mark the occasion. He gave Australia's Ben Alexander a bath in the scrum, and Richie McCaw was fulsome in his post-match praise. Tribute, too, to Tom Taylor for a fine Test debut, kicking 14 points, after a shocking nervous first effort, and organising the backline with great efficiency. It is said the All Blacks machine all but runs itself, but certainly it hummed as efficiently as it did in Sydney and few folk noticed the absence of Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett.
  • Villain of the Game: Jaco Peyper perplexed the Wallabies with a number of rulings in the 16-8 penalty count in favour of the hosts. The All Blacks outplayed their opponents in the biggest moments of the game, but the Wallabies were not dominated throughout the game to the extent suggested by the penalty count, and Australian fans, players and coaching team can wonder what might have happened had the South African reached for his cards as the Kiwis committed a number of professional fouls in the opening 30 minutes.
  • Talking Point: Mr Peyper chose not to go upstairs to consult the television match official when awarding the penalty from which Australia opened the scoring, despite the protestations from a number of Wallabies, notably run-on debutant Scott Fardy, that Stephen Moore had scored a try. Television replays suggested Australia's hooker could have been awarded a five-pointer, although who knows whether a double movement or a bobbled grounding would have been found. The technology's there for you to use, Mr Peyper, and certainly neither you nor your touch judge was in a position to see.
  • Play of the Game: Ben Smith's second try featured a super half-break and pop pass from Ma'a Nonu before a searing linebreak from Steven Luatua to link with his wide runners. The play showed to best advantage the All Blacks' broken-field play, and their ability to punish an opponent's mistakes.

It's a pretty scary thought, too. It's even arguable whether New Zealand were better in Wellington than they had been in Sydney the week before. Yet there they were on Saturday night, holding up the Bledisloe Cup after another pretty comfortable win over the Wallabies despite - for the second week in a row - having well less than 50% of both territory and possession.

The All Blacks were pressured, at times, into mistakes by the improved Australian defence, and, once again, Michael Hooper caused them all sorts of havoc at the breakdown. And yet, even with their fourth- or fifth-choice (depending on your point of view) fly-half on debut, they still found ways to take advantage of Wallabies mistakes through a collective belief in their systems and a complete and utter trust in their teammates.

Capitalising best of all was Ben Smith, who has scored seven of his nine Test tries in his past four appearances - with an astonishing five against the Wallabies in the space of seven days. A joke did the rounds during the week that the most popular position in international rugby currently is on the opposite wing to James O'Connor, and Smith benefitted again as O'Connor was caught out of position at the worst possible time. Maybe twice.

And so good are the systems that Tom Taylor stepped into playmaking void with aplomb. It's easy to lay superlatives on thick when a debutant starts his career in style, but Taylor really does look to have a bright future ahead of him. So, too, does Steven Luatua, who put on a breathtaking display at blindside in just his Third Test. And yet, despite some wonderful individual displays, the All Blacks still looked rusty at times. And that doesn't bode well for the poor team that opposes them when they really put it all together. The Wallabies may yet yearn they got off easy

Wallabies' great improvement undone by simple skill errors

The Wallabies were much improved defensively, after their ordinary efforts in Bledisloe I in Sydney, but they were still a long way off perfect in Wellington. In fact, the Wallabies were probably better across the board compared with their Sydney effort - which probably highlights just how bad they were in that first Bledisloe clash.

This time, in Wellington, simple skill errors killed them: unforced handling errors; passes going behind the man, or over or past the man into touch; kicks not going into touch when they needed to; kicks sailing into the stands when they didn't need to; three consecutive lineouts losses in the second half; defensive misreads; letting kicks bounce, or worse, pulling out of contests after committing to them ...

There were some positives, however.

Scott Fardy repaid the faith of Ewen McKenzie in starting him at blindside, and Hooper at openside was again most likely Australia's best. Matt Toomua asked way more questions of the All Blacks' defence, and made good use of inside runners who in turn presented a lot better than last week. Christian Leali'ifano looked like the clever ball-playing inside centre we know he can be. Israel Folau was more involved. Rob Simmons got through a mountain of work again. And the back-row worked much better as a unit.

Even Jesse Mogg looked a lot better than he did in Sydney, but once again he let himself down with some poor kicks and passes that missed their mark. So once again there will be questions about the No.15 jumper, with Folau now looking for the ball - and finding it, as Ma'a Nonu found out - and owning a well-developed kick after his AFL stint,.

The simple mistakes cost the Wallabies any hope in Wellington, and Ewen McKenzie is entitled to rethink his squad before the next set of games at home to South Africa and Argentina. McKenzie conceded post-match that "we may play differently", and that will leave some players feeling nervous about their positions. As they should., as schoolyard errors cannot be tolerated at International level.

Momentum can turn on a dime

Leali'ifano made a clean line break from a Stephen Moore offload in the 24th minute, beat Israel Dagg cold with an infield step and looked certain score but for the last-ditch defence of Aaron Smith. Many assumed that Kieran Read was penalised for being offside, and/or coming in from the side, and/or for going off his feet, and that he should receive a yellow card, but Smith committed the first infringement when he did not release the Wallabies centre in the tackle. The Wallabies led 3-0 at the time, and you'd have to think that a try was quite likely with the momentum they had in that moment.

Leali'ifano kicked the penalty to push the lead out to six points.

From the restart, and the ensuing Wallabies clearance, Dagg put up a midfield bomb that came down on or near the Australian 40-metre line, where Will Genia didn't go for the ball despite calling for it and leaving the ground to contest, leaving Read to claim the kick uncontested. (It wasn't the last time that Genia, usually so assured under the high ball, failed to contest a bomb.)

Two phases later, having gone in-field in the previous phase, the All Blacks found themselves with half-a-dozen players or more on the short side against three Wallabies; Ben Smith is put away from 25 metres, Tom Taylor converts without too much trouble, and what might have been 8-0, or even 10-0 to the Wallabies is 7-6 to New Zealand. The turnaround killed all momentum the Wallabies had, and they never recovered from that moment in the match.

Australia were left to lament their lack of close support for Christian Leali'ifano after this break © Getty Images
Enlarge

I don't like criticising referees, but ...

It really did feel like the Wallabies copped the rough end of the pineapple from Jaco Peyper. The South African's officiating of the offside line was liberal at best all night - for both teams - and it felt like a great majority of the 50-50 calls went to the home side.

New Zealand again got away with arguably cynical infringements in their own half, especially when the Wallabies genuinely had them on the back foot. The Smith / Read infringement is a classic case in point: if that wasn't a professional foul by the very definition, I'm not sure what one is any more.

In the 32nd minute, Peyper penalised New Zealand for another ruck infringement inside their own half; he even called time off for what looked likely to be the award of a yellow card only to go back to a nothing entanglement against Ben Mowen on Brodie Retallick in the aftermath of the previous ruck.

In the 34th minute, Hooper superbly picked up a ball tapped infield by Mogg (who was trying to save what would've been his own kick out on the full), only to be penalised for not releasing the ball. Peyper explained that the arriving Richie McCaw had completed the turnover. Except Jaco, McCaw clearly came from the Australian side of the ruck: so if he was involved in the tackle, there was no clear release; and he had to have been offside if he was the arriving player, as you say.

Hooper was also penalised for a questionable blocking call just after time, too. And I'll be honest, I lost count of the number of times I thought scrum penalties should've gone the opposite way. The scrum was a lottery again, and we're supposed to be entering an improved method of operation there.

Don't get me wrong, the Wallabies made more than enough mistake to lose this match on their own; these examples certainly didn't "cost them the game". But the 16-8 penalty count against the Wallabies just didn't feel right on the night. Ewen McKenzie didn't miss in the press conference, either.

The new scrum laws … discuss

There was - and still is - much to like about the new scrum engagement sequence effected from August 1, but it's already evident that teething problems exist with their implementation.

When it no longer becomes an advantage to have the scrum feed - because the non-feeding side is able to exert so much pressure from the lower 'Set' position, and meaning the feeding side's hooker is unable to strike - then we've surely got an issue. Already, referees are going to have to either adjust the height of the front rows on 'Set', or they're really going to have police the commencement of the shove. More attention needs to be paid to the angle of the loose-head, too, while the clever tight-head is either delaying his hit or taking a sneaky step backwards or sideways as the loose-head attacks.

The feeds are at least much improved on those served in Super Rugby, and I can't recall Jaco Peyper penalising any feeds in Wellington after Craig Joubert pulled up four in Sydney. I'm in two minds about the referee calling "Yes, nine" when he's happy the scrum is ready to be fed, though. Perhaps we might have more attention paid to opponents pushing before the ball is actually fed.

A work in progress, no doubt.


Debate the issues via the comments box at the bottom of the page, or jump onto Twitter and tell the world using the #ScrumFive hashtag.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Live Scores
Results
Fixtures