Once again All Blacks show they’re all class
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With the Olympics fever still lingering, the Rugby Championship kicked off in Sydney with an absolute stunner as the world champion New Zealand All Blacks continued their dominance post-World Cup with a thrilling 27-19 victory over long-time nemesis the Wallabies.
The rustiness of both teams was uncovered, with a myriad of handling errors mainly coming from the men in gold, gifting the men in black with favourable chances.
As expected, the spotlight on a particular individual was immediate when superstar Sonny Bill Williams was given the team’s confidence of sparking a counter-attack directly from the kick-off inside the red zone.
Unfortunately, a trademark off-load off-balanced to right wing Cory Jane was deemed a forward pass.
Credit to coach Steve Hansen in going for the jugular right from the start and instructing his boys to have a go and test the situation in front of them, rather than the usual conservative approach that we would’ve anticipated.
Sadly though, an over-eager match official just couldn’t help himself getting into the action to play his part in the big show.
Pedantic referee Alain Rolland may have got a little too excited and decided to ruin the spectacle. He should’ve been disqualified, while the All Blacks’ display was deserving of a gold medal.
You’d think they’d have fixed the scrum issues, yet there might as well not be a scrum if the whistle constantly blows up at every engagement. It’s an on-going, frustrating aspect which rugby does not need and is turning more people away from the game.
Nevertheless, the players of both nations deserved the accolades for producing another great atmosphere and turning the game into an interesting battle as it went down to the wire – which is exactly what happened at ANZ Stadium.
The Wallabies will rue their chance of losing a margin bonus point for their brave efforts smackbang on fulltime, when the world’s best five-eighth Dan Carter stamped home his final penalty with an exclamation mark.
Carter was instrumental and simply showed why he is the best, when he was sorely missed in the latter stages of last year’s World Cup finals.
But it is amazing how the Australians could even compare their captain David Pocock to the great Richie McCaw.
The inspirational All Blacks skipper has been around a long, long time and had been painted unfairly as a ‘cheat’, particularly echoing from the envious, grudging and jealous land of the ex-convicts.
Pocock comes onto the scene and barely sweats on his debut and suddenly he is hailed as the master of the breakdown. Plain typical of the Aussie media hype and mentality.
As far as this writer is concerned, it is a total mismatch and McCaw is still in a league of his own. As much as the former Western Force captain is a pretty good player himself, McCaw is all class by a long way.
Even now he has added an extra dimension to his game, with his powerful ball carries that would put the likes of Rocky Elsom, Wycliff Palu and Radike Samo – who themselves are renowned for their barnstorming runs – to shame.
Perhaps Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was stretching it a tad too far when he rated Pocock as the best openside flanker in the world.
That may have triggered his rival Hansen’s unusual mind games at press conferences to return the favour in terms of Deans’ selection policy, namely the surprised absence of flamboyant playmaker Quade Cooper.
Whatever the barbs between these two, Hansen is merely reminding his counterpart who is the real deal and the boss at the breakdown, as he will do everything in his power to be very protective of his magnificent leader.
As it turned out, the weekend’s Bledisloe clash was a massive points victory for McCaw over Pocock. May the lessons long continue.
The All Blacks line-up almost resembled a rugby dream team, especially with the intimidating midfield pairing of Williams and Ma’a Nonu, along with the fearsome back three of Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Hosea Gear – whom Wallaby winger Adam Ashley Cooper correctly predicted beforehand would be a ‘deadly combination’ – this backline already looks to have regained the tag of the best in the world.
Even when Sonny Bill waves sayonara, another world-class player in Conrad Smith steps into the vacant spot.
The Wallabies may have thought they did their homework with aplomb, marking the dangerous Williams at every opportunity. What they didn’t see coming though, was the clever ploy of the All Blacks using both hulking centres as decoy runners in set moves. The two brilliant tries to Dagg and Jane ensured that their ‘contribution’ was not going to waste.
The New Zealand forwards provided the perfect platform and were once again ruthless at the breakdown, led by McCaw and the outstanding Keven Mealamu, who had a terrific game, not to mention guiding an impressive lineout.
Liam Messam was tough in the trenches and his support play was superb, although he may regret a few crucial decisions when the All Blacks were hot in attack. However, to keep Victor Vito out all game was testament to his involvement.
Kieran Read showed why he is the number one No.8 and put his stamp in the match with a ferocious tackle on Pocock, who is now out of the Eden Park return clash due to a knee injury.
Overall, the All Blacks will know they could’ve won by a more convincing margin had they ‘completed their sets’ – to borrow from a rugby league perspective. Dagg’s majestic run before passing to no man’s land, Messam’s wayward pass from a Nonu linebreak as well as his handling error via Aaron Smith slicing through, Jane’s concentration lapse from an SBW offload in the second half, and Gear’s somehow lazy effort to dive for the corner (watch any NRL winger’s acrobatic skills to execute such a manoeuvre and you get the point), were prime examples of what could’ve been.
A full-house awaits another classic encounter of these powerhouses, and the All Blacks will want to maintain their proud record at the daunting ‘Garden of Eden’.
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