Australia 47 – New Zealand 26. Wallaby gold. A Test victory for the ages and a massive springboard for a successful Rugby World Cup challenge.
The result represents a thrashing of the All Blacks by a brilliantly selected and well-coached – how good is it to be able for once to say this – Wallabies side.
At best, the most ardent Wallabies supporters were expressing ‘cautious optimism’ (Alan Jones, in this case) about the chances of the Wallabies defeating the All Blacks in the first Bledisloe Cup Test of 2019 played in the magnificent new stadium at Perth.
It was the sort of optimism a person falling out of a plane without a parachute has when hoping for a soft landing.
But he 47 points scored by the rampant Wallabies represents the most ever in a Test scored against an All Blacks side since the team’s first Test, at Sydney, in 1903.
The previous highest tally against the All Blacks was 46 scored by the Springboks at Ellis Park in 2000.
The margin of victory for the Wallabies, 21 points, equals the highest margin ever recorded by Australia in a Test against New Zealand.
You have to go back to Sydney, 1999, for an equivalent points margin of 21 points when Rod Macqueen’s side defeated the All Blacks 28 – 7 at Sydney.
Macqueen’s 1999 Wallabies went on, famously, to win the 1999 Rugby World Cup tournament in a convincing manner.
Is the Perth 21-points margin of victory a talisman for Rugby World Cup glory in Japan?
Of course, the red card issued against Scott Barrett was a crucial element in the outcome at Perth.
Barrett put himself in jeopardy when he made his shoulder charge. Michael Hooper’s head was below Barrett’s knees when the hit was made, though. And that Barrett seemed to slip before any contact was made.
I thought, in real time while watching that Hooper milked the situation a bit.
The referee Frenchman Jerome Garces stopped play when he heard Hooper crying out.
Ironically, this action prevented the Wallabies from scoring a try.
But red card or not, by half-time the Wallabies were well on the way to recording a substantial victory.
Here are the first half statistics that virtually prove this assertion:
Metres gained: Wallabies 319, All Blacks 152.
Territory: Wallabies 87 per cent, All Blacks 13 per cent.
Possession: Wallabies 81 per cent, All Blacks 19 per cent.
Tackles Made and Missed: Wallabies 20/6, All Blacks 80/20.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such overwhelmingly negative statistics recorded by an All Blacks side.
As Steve Hansen pointed out, the second half was made virtually impossible for the All Blacks to come back into the Test by the way the Wallabies kept the ball in hand and stretched and stretched the defensive line until it ran out of numbers.
Just a point here to credit Michael Cheika with keeping faith with his belief in the ball-in-hand game even when it was producing dreadful results for the Wallabies.
But at Perth the theory and the practice of the running ball-in-hand game came together brilliantly.
The point here is that the big Wallabies runners were breaking the advantage line, virtually on every carry.
One of the great truths in rugby is that the team that wins the advantage line battle is the team that wins the match.
Aside from Michael Hooper and Scott Sio, the Wallabies pack is a reasonably new pack, with two big, ball-playing loose forwards.
There was a lot of energy and hardness in the work of Isi Naisarani and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, qualities that have been lacking for several years from Wallaby backrowers.
And this balance in the backrow allowed Michael Hooper to play as a genuine number 7. As he did against the Pumas, Hooper had an impressive game.
The point to come out of all of this for the Wallabies is that the older players, like David Pocock and Adam Ashley-Cooper, should now be seen as back-ups or reserves.
I started this essay by praising the selectors. They have created a run-on side, essentially from last season’s usual suspects, with Isi Naisarani being the only new forward.
There are no new (2019 first selection) backs in the run-on side. But it is significantly different from the line-up in recent years.
And here I must make an apology.
My criticism of the play in previous Tests of Nic White was proved to be massively wrong.
He is a better player for his overseas experience. And he was masterful on Saturday night. Calm, thoughtful, aggressive with his breaks, confusing the All Blacks rush defence with his ploy of taking a couple of steps and then making splendid decisions about which runner to pass to.
Early on in the Test, he kicked downfield rather than kicking out with the almost inevitable result of the All Blacks running the ball back to score a try.
But after that aberration, White reverted to the pass and run game.
The All Blacks tried to kill this by taking him out, when and slightly after he passed.
Scott Barrett was involved in most of these take-outs and I wondered, at the time, whether the shoulder charge on Hooper was part motivated by exasperation with chasing the elusive White.
The run-on Wallabies, in the backs and forwards, had what Alan Jones often talks about when he discusses selection, ‘the shape’ of well-selected side.
The forwards have a mobile and strong scrumming front row, with a digger in Tolu Latu to balance Michael Hooper’s more wide-ranging game.
Four of the five second and backrowers are big and athletic.
I am a great believer in the creed of gridiron coaches at the famed Notre Dame University that ‘prayers work best when players are big.’
As for the backs, I credit the selectors for putting Bernard Foley out of the starting squad.
It is clear now that Christian Lealiifano has the poise and skills to run a backline.
The Lomu-like charging of Samu Kerevi, which led to a clinching try as he bowled through three All Black tacklers, was nicely balanced with the ball-skills and tricky footwork of James O’Connor.
And Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete and even Reece Hodge showed some dazzling pace and aggressive running.
You could see when all these different parts worked together that the Wallabies had a clear way, indeed an obvious path, towards scoring tries and winning a famous victory.
I said after the Test against the Pumas, which on the scoreboard looked like a narrow sort of win, that the Wallabies played better than they had for some time.
This current victory is a victory for the ages. As I say, forget the red card, the Wallabies out-played the All Blacks at their own fast and hard-shouldered game, virtually from the opening whistle.
You would have to say that the Wallabies are in their best space in years to win back the Bledisloe Cup, even though it means smashing the Eden Park hoodoo.
Hoodoos are there to be broken. And what better time to do this when the All Blacks selectors have stuffed up their preparation and selections of a team expected to win a third Rugby World Cup tournament in a row.
This prospect is looking remote, right now.
As the Perth Test unravelled for the All Blacks, a number of major fault lines were exposed in the team.
To begin with, the pack is showing its age. It is slow around the field and with the ball in hand. Moreover, it is not coping well with the new scrum regulations which effectively de-power scrumming.
The backrow was too small. It suffered from the Hooper-Pocock problem of having two number-7s and, consequently, lacking two, big ball-running loose forwards.
The problem for the All Blacks selectors is that they have shuffled through several possibilities for fixing the problem, and it has only got worse.
The ‘Small’ Blacks forwards were matched, at Perth, with a backline that lacked, aside from Beauden Barrett, players with pace.
The experiment of playing two play-makers is based on a bad policy, I believe.
If you have a gifted playmaker like Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo’unga you get more value from them if they have that player taking on the majority of the playmaking duties.
In the case of the present set-up, too, forcing Ben Smith out of the fullback position, where he is a great player, and on to the wing, where he becomes innocuous, means that the All Black backs lack anyone with real pace in their backline, aside from Barrett,
And, a point made by one commentator, the All Blacks are actually standing too close to the advantage line on attack. They are not running on to the ball. They are being easily tackled and because of the pressure they are under, they are making handling and passing mistakes.
Under pressure they played in Steve Hansen’s word ‘dumb’ rugby.
Hansen has pointed out on the rare occasions the All Blacks have lost during his reign as coach that ‘teams learn more from losses than from wins.’
We will see how this all this pans out next Saturday at Eden Park for a Wallabies side on the rise and an All Blacks side showing obvious signs of decline.