All Blacks will batter someone
August 25, 2013
Steven Luatua and the All Blacks are yet to click in 2013, Brett McKay believes © Getty Images
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
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
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.
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