OPINION | Wallabies came out firing and didn’t wilt   27 Aug 2017

Jim Kayes

27 August 2017


Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

This was a decent contest, a match where the Wallabies came out firing and didn’t wilt when the All Blacks stormed back to win 35-29. It was a match of punch and counterpunch. A game where much can be discussed and debated - and it’s that, rather than a flogging, that will help revive the trans-Tasman contest.

As much as it can be fun for Kiwis to ridicule the state of Australian rugby, the All Blacks need the Wallabies to be strong.

Rugby is a small game internationally. The All Blacks have only lost Tests against eight teams. One of them was a World XV in 1992 who they will never play again and another is the British and Irish Lions who they only play every 12 years.

Of the test nations only Australia, South Africa, England, France, Wales and Ireland have beaten the All Blacks and of those six Ireland have done it just once and Wales not since 1953.

No one, at least no one who truly cares about the state of international rugby, wants to see the Wallabies slip out the back door of the small group that is the elite of world rugby.

Though let's not get carried away with the Australian revival because they still lost in Dunedin, despite giving themselves multiple chances to win. They led 17-0 early after just 12 minutes and failed to win from there, and took the lead with just a few minutes to play but again failed to close out the match.
As Australia coach Michael Cheika said, “the gallant loser thing is not on. We should have won that game”. He’s right, but it may take a while for the Wallabies to truly believe they can beat the All Blacks.
They haven’t held the Bledisloe Cup since George Gregan handed it to Reuben Thorne at Eden Park in 2003 and they have copped a few hidings in recent years.
It’s worth remembering they trailed 54-6 early in the second half in Sydney last week and were smashed 42-8 at the same venue last year as the All Blacks kicked off a clean sweep of the three Test series.

They shared a two Test series in 2015 that ensured New Zealand kept the Cup and the All Blacks hammered Australia in the World Cup final that year. They retained the Cup with two wins and a draw in 2014, clean swept the Wallabies again in 2013, and had two wins and draw in 2012.

So if you’re a Wallaby, that’s one win - just one - in the last 17 Tests against the All Blacks. It’s hard to be confident about victory with that sort of record.
And as good as Australia were in Dunedin, there are a few sobering things they need to consider that are hugely positive for the All Blacks.

Start with the scrum that was anchored initially by Nepo Laulala who was a late inclusion after Owen Franks was ruled out with an achilles injury. It was Laulala’s fifth Test, his first start and his first Test since 2015. He was part of a black scrum that destroyed Australia.

And the All Blacks finished with Kane Hames on one side of the scrum in his second Test and Ofa Tu’ungafasi on the other side in his sixth.

Sure it was only Australia who are seldom renowned for having a decent scrum - certainly not one as good as what the young trio will face in the Pumas and Springboks, but it was still a superb performance by the inexperienced All Blacks props.

It’s the same on the wing where Rieko Ioane was again hugely impressive scoring one try, having another disallowed and showing that pace and power will always be hard to contain.

And then, collectively, how good were the All Blacks under the pump in Dunedin. Down early, they came back. Having established a lead, they let it slip and most teams will have conceded defeat then, with just a few minutes to play.

Instead skipper Kieran Read issued some simple instructions as they huddled together under the posts.

“Get the kick off right and I’ll catch it”, was the gist of first instruction. “Hold on to the ball and let's see what happens”, was the next basic order.

What happened was that the All Blacks won the kick off, Read hit a gap, found TJ Perenara who slipped the ball to Beauden Barrett for the match winning try.

It broke Aussie hearts, kept the silverware in Kiwi hands for another year, with a bit of Wallaby polish applied for the first time in a long time.

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