After the All Blacks handed the Wallabies another drubbing, Steve Hansen didn’t hesitate when asked what won the game: attitude.
His team competed for everything, and his backs clinically took their chances. It was particularly interesting watching the All Blacks machine click into gear, as their tails went up with each mini-battle won, usually by applying excellence to the most simple of tasks.
Sam Whitelock and Ardie Savea dominated the contest, ably assisted by captain Kieran Read. The All Blacks’ game management was superb, particularly when Dane Coles was rightly sent off.
In fact, Coles should have been yellowed five minutes earlier for cynically rushing in from an offside position to shut down the Wallabies’ attack on his own goal line.
The wet weather proved to be no barrier for the Kiwis, and it was a positive, attacking attitude that saw them ruthlessly compete at every ruck, and demand of each other front foot step after front foot step.
The only thing to detract from their performance (besides the yellow card) was their opposition’s vanishing resilience from the 35th minute on.
The inability of the Wallabies pack to crush a seven-man Kiwi scrum was baffling, and their struggle to negate the All Blacks’ momentum – to scrap and fight their way back into the contest – was telling.
Attitude explains why the first 30 minutes was an even contest, while an absence of 15 resilient men in the final 30 left this die-hard Wallabies supporter frustrated and slightly embarrassed.
During the first 30 minutes, the Wallabies put together some beautiful passages of play, and were unlucky not to score. Two penalty kicks would have been helpful. But while all teams miss penalties, it seemed to deflate the Wallabies.
It’s hard to judge halves behind a pack on the back foot, but Christian Lealiifano seemed rattled by his penalty misses, and his own lack of resilience commenced the Wallabies’ downfall.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto was particularly disappointing, and his body language suggested he had been out-enthused. This left Michael Hooper trying to take on both Savea and Sam Cane at the breakdown, and it’s little wonder the Wallabies captain was gassed at the end – Roarers should consider this before sticking the boot in.
The Wallabies’ blind-side jersey is still up for grabs, and it’s easy to see why David Pocock will be the one to grab it.
Similarly, the backs didn’t cover themselves in glory. It’s not unreasonable to expect better handling from the back line at this level. I’d love to read a story about the entire back line (not least Kurtley Beale) spending an entire skills session with balls that have been dropped in soapy water, with hands covered in sun cream.
On a brighter note, Isi Naisarani joined his captain and replacement prop Taniela Tupou in showing the most fight among the Australians in the second half. These three desperately need their colleagues to front up for the full 80 minutes and to bounce back after conceding points.
I can only imagine how frustrating it is for them to see their line-breaks so poorly supported, and then dismissed with a judicious All Blacks kick on turnover ball.
Attitude and resilience have been hallmarks of All Blacks rugby for the last ten years. It appears the Springboks have been learning from their old foes, most recently to scratch out a draw in Wellington.
The Wallabies’ recent results suggest that our current players are good front-runners, but terrible at chasing down a score.
At the turn of the century, our great teams – read: our great forward packs – had resilience in spades, continuing the fight until a last-minute try or penalty goal was pulled from the fire.
Even the 2015 Wallabies showed in the quarter-final against Wales that it’s not beyond them.
But four years later, it is up to their successors to develop resilience through application and attitude if they are to see themselves deep into the knock-out stages of the World Cup, let alone earn a win at Eden Park.