The All Blacks have got their Rugby Championship campaign underway with a 27-19 win against the Wallabies in Sydney. It was far from a convincing win, though, as both teams delivered error-ridden performances making for a messy game that never really got going.
After conceding an early penalty from the kickoff, the All Blacks began to fire, dominating the first 30 minutes and playing their best rugby of the game. In contrast, the Wallabies were awful, often panicking inside their own half and putting themselves under unnecessary pressure.
This dominance led to an 18-point run, where the All Blacks touched down for two outstanding tries while Daniel Carter was able to add eight points through two penalties and a conversion.
The first of these tries came from a beautifully executed set move, where Carter dummied to two decoy runners who drew the Wallaby defenders. This set Israel Dagg up in a one-on-one situation with the covering Kurtley Beale, who proceeded to miss the tackle and allow Dagg to score the first try.
Both men were involved in the second too, as a dropped ball by Beale gave the All Blacks a scrum that would allow Cory Jane to touch down out wide. An outstanding piece of work from Dagg made this possible, getting the ball through his hands at such speed that the Wallaby defenders couldn’t get across in time to cover.
The Wallabies were to strike back right before the break, as Nathan Sharpe crashed over to take the score to 18-10.
From here the game became very messy as both sides made too many mistakes to gain any momentum. The basic skill level wasn’t high, as simple passes were dropped and too many inaccuracies crept into the game. It was to end at 27-19 with both sides kicking three penalties in the final 40 to make for a rather dour second half.
The officiating of Alain Roland didn’t help either, giving far too many penalties to allow the game to ever flow.
He seemed far to intent on picking up minor technicalities, things that go unnoticed all the time, giving the impression that he must have been looking for something to penalise at times.
At times the intent of the players needs to be looked at too, as well as the situation. If play has continued and the infringement didn’t affect the game, in most cases it makes for a better game to let it go. Of course there are exceptions to this.
In general he is a good referee and one bad performance shouldn’t affect his reputation too much. As far as this game was concerned though, it was a factor that limited the ability of both teams to play their natural game.
Despite this, it must be said neither team looked capable of letting the game flow either as the high error rate constantly stopped play. Both teams looked rusty and will undoubtedly be better for the hit out, with many players playing their first high-level rugby in weeks.
It was a hard game to pick out any standout players, but All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was once again brilliant. He carried the ball strongly and defended well as has come to be expected of him. His lineout work has become a strong feature of his game too, and he was often used as an option here as well.
Both locks had strong games too, whilst Keven Mealamu showed he’s well and truly over his injury problems.
The backs didn’t get much of a chance to fire, but Daniel Carter and Israel Dagg were both outstanding from start to finish. Carter continues to prove his worth on defence, making tackle after tackle, whilst also kicking very well. Dagg looked dangerous every time he touched the ball and was the only player to really threaten the whole game.
The much talked-about midfield didn’t fire and it has become clear that there needs to be a genuine centre wearing the No. 13 jersey rather than a second five-eighth.
Ma’a Nonu is one of the most dangerous players in the world, but he didn’t see enough ball and was rather anonymous outside Sonny Bill Williams. Williams himself had a mixed night, showing a few deft touches but also making some mistakes which led to points. Playing one or the other in the 12 jersey may be the way to go, and use Tamati Ellison at centre whilst Conrad Smith is unavailable.
In general though, the All Blacks will be pleased to have obtained the win. There are many rough patches to iron out, but this will come as the players reacquaint themselves with each other and start to gel in the way we know they can.
The two teams will travel to Auckland next week, where they will do it all over again as the All Blacks will look to lock away the Bledisloe Cup for another year.