Attitude can be an intangible that can often be overlooked when dissecting a recent sporting match.
We are often concerned about the result, tactics, skill and dubious officiating during our Monday morning appraisals, as opposed to how the sides approached and finished the game.
It was the attitude of both the All Blacks and Wallabies, especially the latter, that caught my attention more than any shuddering Jerome Kano tackle or Wyatt Crockett penalty when considering the opening match of this season’s Bledisloe battle.
Before Jaco Peyper put mouth to whistle the world champion All Blacks delivered their challenge to the revamped Wallabies with the ‘Kapa o Pango’. Although it wasn’t the most ferocious performance I’ve seen of this Haka, make no mistake that 23 All Blacks and an entire nation were challenging the men in gold with every fore arm slap, poked tongue and steeled eye.
However, the Wallabies’ retort was a simple stare back and a ‘let’s get into it’. Pretty simple and hardly the French Arrow, the Welsh Wall or the theatrics of Willie Anderson and his fellow Irishmen at Lansdowne Road in 1989.
Instead, the Wallabies would let their rugby, not theatrics, define their renewed attitude. An attitude that I would argue was recently more concerned about gaining the All Blacka respect than about winning.
Getting close to the All Blacks was once nearly a pass mark that could be notched up to experience. Yet these Wallabies appeared more concerned about victory than respect, knowing the latter will come if you take care of the former.
Although the Wallabies were chasing an eighth win in a row, the stage really was set for another coronation of the world champion All Blacks to smite the brave but clueless Wallabies on their home turf. King Richie and company were ready to ride off into the sunset set with a world record eighteen consecutive wins and right the wrongs of 2012, when the Wallabies stopped another ceremony.
In 2012 the Wallabies were playing for pride, the Bledisloe was lost and the Wallabies held pointless in Auckland. Australian rugby was spluttering along. To their credit the Wallabies came out blazing, but as great sides do the All Blacks found a way to get back into the game and came within a whisker of winning.
Yet in 2014 the script was different in many ways, this was an opening Test match of the season. The All Blacks dominated the first 25 to 30 minutes of the match and looked like they would cross the line. However the pendulum swung, as it was the Wallabies who stole the momentum and finished the game more dominantly than their nemesis.
While referee Jaco Peyper’s performance has caught the ire of many New Zealander, Australian fans were similarly scathing. Let’s just say the man is not an international standard referee and leave it at that. However, you don’t become world champions by not being able to play on despite poor refereeing and poor match conditions, as the All Blacks have proved in the past.
They have a side that has won everywhere and against everyone on the planet, but they did not appear to be those All Blacks last Saturday night. While their defence was very good, and a testament to their grit and pride, the dominant All Blacks machine was not there. They did not fire an all cylinders, and the Wallabies are still trying to figure out how their engine works.
I will not say the All Blacks are in demise, but in golfing terms they are in the rough. For the first time in a long time I will say that Richie McCaw was the second best open side on the park. Although criticised for his captaincy, Michael Hooper was far more dominant with the ball in hand and did not cost his side three penalties like McCaw. To McCaw’s credit he tackled as fearlessly as ever and still played very well, but for me Hooper got the points.
For Australia to win at Eden Park on Saturday Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley must come into the starting side for Nic White and Kurtley Beale. I enjoyed aspects of both White and Beale’s games, however White simply offers little to no threat from the base of the scrum or breakdown.
I think Phipps has a running game and is always looking to move forward to question the defensive line, and this attribute could suit the Wallabies, who will need to take the game to the All Blacks on Saturday.
As for Beale, he had some wonderful touches but at times he was too square and failed to take the ball to the line and draw defenders in, leaving his back line a touch lateral at times and denying his outside backs some width. This is an area that Foley could fix with his more direct approach to the defensive line. Foley of 2014 could yet be the Tony Melrose of 1978, or Michael Lynagh of 1986 and be the young Wallabies 10 who leads the side to a famous win at Eden Park.
Yet whoever takes the park for the Wallabies on Saturday, one thing is for sure. The attitude to win appears to be there.
While the All Blacks started last Saturday night chanting “And it’s my time! It’s my moment!”, I still have visions of two-Test veteran Sam Carter yelling to his front row in the 75th minute words to the effect of “Come on boys lets effing get into them.”
That shows to me that perhaps it is the Wallabies’ time and the Wallabies’ moment.