The All Blacks fire a parting shot
September 19, 2009
Joe Rokocoko enjoyed his best outing of the season in Wellington © Getty Images
Berrick Barnes Robbie Deans Tom Donnelly Will Genia Matt Giteau Sir Graham Henry Cory Jane Joe Rokocoko Adam Thomson Isaia Toeava
As victories go, the All Blacks' 33-6 triumph over Australia won't trouble the upper echelons of the all-time list. In the here and now however, their expansive gameplan and willing attitude in attack has won them a reprieve from bashings at the hands of the press and fans alike.
For the Wallabies, Test No.500 was one to forget. Robbie Deans' youthful side wilted under the bright lights, the weight of an eight-year losing run on New Zealand soil too much to combat as the All Blacks finally rediscovered their talent for doing the basics well.
The game wasn't about silverware, with two of the most decorated rugby nations in the world game just desperate to secure another win and some momentum heading in to their final Bledisloe Cup Test of the season on October 31 and the following November tour.
All Blacks boss Graham Henry, whose head was nearing the chopping block after defeat to the Springboks last weekend, saw his changes pay off in style.
Debutant Otago lock Tom Donnelly put himself about well in the loose and enjoyed an untroubled night at the lineout, Isaia Toeava showed flashes of the pace and invention that he has all too often failed to produce at Test level and Neemia Tialata and Adam Thomson waded in to a fine defensive display.
Special praise must be reserved for Cory Jane, the Wellington fullback playing out on the wing at his home ground. Superb under the high ball for his try and brimming with pace and attacking endeavour Jane nailed down a place for the tour squad and likely a starting role in Tokyo at the end of October.
On the opposite wing there was a performance and try to savour from Joe Rokocoko, capping his best display of the season in style after enduring a torrid time under the Springbok high-ball.
Having voiced his frustrations at the lack of running rugby seen in this year's Tri-Nations, he more than anyone went looking for work and prospered from the All Blacks' new-found support angles and offloads.
With the Wellington fans responding to their side's willingness to play, the All Blacks never looked back after Jane crossed the whitewash. His try came as Toeava kicked his heels in the sin-bin, ramming home the advantage as the Wallabies conspicuously failed to find service to their exciting backs division.
Scrum-half Will Genia and fullback James O'Connor endured difficult evenings after fireworks last time in Brisbane but the Wallabies' overall game-plan seemed to lack focus and structure. With the scrum an unforgivable mess all game they should have focused their attentions on the All Black lineout, which has been hugely erratic all season.
At this level, to let a team that is struggling with a key discipline have the time to play themselves back in to form is criminal. Unfortunately for Deans that's exactly what his side did, first failing to kick for territory with their limited possession and then inexplicably not challenging the All Black throw.
With the dual-kicking axis of Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes in midfield there was no technical reason for the lack of focus and it will no doubt be chalked up as a lesson in how to utilise possession for this young and talented squad.
The Wallabies are soon off to the northern hemisphere to attempt a Grand Slam tour of the Home Unions, but will need to find some consistency between now and their opening Test match against England at Twickenham on November 7.
As good a display as this was from the All Blacks, it must be remembered that they have been whitewashed 3-0 by the Springboks this season. They should savour the victory for now and use it as a springboard. The return to action of Dan Carter has steadied their ship no end, with his command exemplified by the shut-out during Toeava's sin-bin, and alongside skipper Richie McCaw he will be vital in the All Blacks' next step on the road to recovery.
Henry and his coaching staff will have several new selection conundrums to mull over. A 'developmental' tour featuring several younger players fresh from Air New Zealand Cup action could place them in good stead for next season and beyond - but whether he has the freedom to attempt such a thing is a moot point. Good grace with the fans may only last until their next defeat.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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