Limp Wallabies give All Blacks pathway to new Test record
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Wallabies' Sekope Kepu is tackled by Richie McCaw and Tony Woodcock. AAP Image/Paul Miller
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Further indignities await Wallabies fans beyond the graveyard of Eden Park on Saturday night, because the third Bledisloe Test, in Brisbane on October 20, could be a match of some significance for different reasons than first imagined.
The All Blacks’ flawed yet comprehensive 27-19 win in Sydney, built on a one-sided physical contest at the gain-line, has increased their current winning streak against all opposition to 11 games.
Should they continue in this manner, Brisbane would represent a 17th consecutive victory, equalling the mark of their 1965-1969 team and Nick Mallett’s Springboks (although Lithuanian readers will be quick to point out that their national team broke that record in 2010).
That would leave them needing to win the November 12 Test against Scotland in Edinburgh to move to 18 successive Test wins.
The disappointing first weekend of the Rugby Championship – denied a memorable contest by a mixture of poor skill levels and overly technical refereeing – offered little evidence that the New Zealanders won’t go very close to etching their names into history.
Saturday’s win increased their winning percentage against Australia under Robbie Deans to the region of 85 per cent.
Since professionalism in 1996, they have significantly increased their winning percentage against all teams, up from 71.19 per cent to 81.48 per cent (before Saturday night). New Zealand coaches hold every major piece of silverware, from the Heineken Cup to the World Cup. Their dominance is such that the modern All Blacks have effectively detached, statistically at least, from the rest of world rugby.
Worryingly for the competitiveness of the first four-nation southern hemisphere competition, injuries threaten to compromise the challenge from elsewhere. The Wallabies can point to David Pocock’s knee problem as the latest misfortune to befall them, but news of Bismarck du Plessis’s long-term injury has greater significance.
The Springboks at least understand the level of physicality required to sustain a challenge against New Zealand. Australia, save for a few worthy exceptions such as Nathan Sharpe, were stuck in Super Rugby mode in Sydney.
But without the Sharks hooker, who is integral to their uncomplicated but brutal approach, South Africa are a much diminished side. Du Plessis’ replacement, bustling Cheetahs No.2 Adriaan Strauss, is a fine player but with Chiliboy Ralepelle also on the sidelines they start to look a little light. Tiaan Liebenberg and Craig Burden, energetic contributors at Super Rugby level, are next in line behind Strauss.
The Springboks are already without Schalk Burger, another long-term occupant of the casualty ward, while it while take a while for the outstanding young second-rower Eben Etzebeth to impose himself at Test level in the style of a Bakkies Botha.
With a tricky looking assignment in Dunedin on the cards – the week after a Wallabies Test in Perth – the Springboks’ best chance against New Zealand probably lies in the October 7 match in Soweto. Yet their inability to manufacture tries, evident again against a determined Pumas side at the weekend, is a weakness that the All Blacks will cruelly expose even at altitude.
There is so much power, pace and guile in the New Zealand game at the moment that a back-line of Kerr-Barlow, Barrett, Ellison, Fruean, Savea, Guildford and Taylor could be constructed out of players who didn’t even make Saturday night’s 22. Assemble that lot anywhere but in New Zealand and they’d all be starting Test matches.
As for the Wallabies’ prospects, realism demands that the immediate targets are sadly downgraded from silverware to respectability. There are too many holes to plug and too much splintered confidence to reason otherwise.
While reassurances were given before Saturday night about tough training sessions, demons must have already taken their place in the heads of some players. A lack of belief seemed to accompany them onto the paddock, and it manifested itself in physical timidity.
There were many instances of it during the night, and to single one out is a little unfair, but Richie McCaw’s running line in the 51st minute to create a gap for Israel Dagg summed it up. McCaw strode back 30 metres to get on Dagg’s side of Rob Horne, easing the Waratah out of the way so the fullback could glide past.
It was classic McCaw, walking on that fine line of legality, but there are a number of Wallabies centres of recent vintage who would have never allowed him to get away with it.
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.
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