They are at their most dangerous when they are written off, those Wallabies. And so it proved once again, as a well under-strength Australian outfit was able to hold the All Blacks to an 18all draw, snapping a 16 game winning streak by the men in black.
It was a messy game dominated by mistakes and a very whistle-happy referee, as Craig Joubert blew a total of 26 penalties throughout. These two are never a good mix, and they led to a game that never got any flow on at all. Consequently, no tries were scored by either team, and it seldom looked like one was going to be scored either.
As easy as it may be to look at the game and say Australia dominated the possession and territory stakes, the All Blacks had enough chances but didn’t take them. They had enough ball to work with and created enough half-chances, but they were let down by poor hands and a lack of patience. The Wallaby defence deserves credit, as they were strong and generally shut down the dangerous All Black backline.
Not only did this prevent the All Blacks from attacking, it gave possession back to the Wallabies, who weren’t a lot better with it themselves.
But such was the nature of the game. By holding on to the ball for a handful of phases, a penalty would inevitably come and negate the need to actually create something. Indeed, the Australian backs were rather woeful, never threatening at all and seemingly doing everything they could to lose the game in the final 10 minutes.
But a strong performance from the forwards kept them in it. Forward runners were used, and easy metres were gained close to the ruck as the All Black defence began to look less intimidating. Too many tackles were fallen off and resulted in the momentum being with the Wallabies for large parts of the game.
Ultimately, it came down to a battle of the goal kickers—one that finished in a stalemate with both teams kicking six penalty goals. Mike Harris made five, whilst Kurtley Beale chipped in with a long range effort for Australia and Dan Carter kicking six for the All Blacks.
It was the extent to which these men were really able to shine, as Kurtley Beale otherwise had a shocker, whilst Harris got few chances at fullback. Carter wasn’t able to impose himself as he can do, but he was solid and defended well.
There were few other backs to stand out either, with both midfields cancelling each other out well and neither back three getting much ball. Ma’a Nonu showed some nice touches but also made a number of mistakes which proved costly, whilst Conrad Smith seemed to be hampered for much of the game with an injury and gave an uncharacteristically average performance. Cory Jane did well with what chances he got, as did Hosea Gear, who was dangerous but needed to get involved more.
In the forwards it was an even battle, as it was clear the Wallabies had come to play and matched the All Blacks for intensity throughout. The breakdowns were a mess, as both teams lacked discipline but at times seemed to be harshly penalised by an overly-pedantic referee who found some rather obscure offences to blow. Lineouts were a problem for both teams too, with the coordination between the jumper and the thrower not there and too much ball lost.
Richie McCaw was the best of the All Blacks pack, who despite taking yet another cheap shot at the bottom of a ruck, gave a top performance particularly on defence, where he was once again immense. Kieran Read too was very strong with his ball carrying and defence work.
The tight five were made to work hard but were able to gain the upper-hand at times whilst also getting the better of the scrums. Sam Whitelock was the best of these men, getting through plenty of work whilst Brodie Retallick too had a strong game.
There are those who will say this All Blacks team needs to be given a break. That having just won 16 games on the trot, a draw against the No. 2 side in the world should at least be acceptable. But it is the high standards created by the team itself and by the rugby community in New Zealand that sees this isn’t the case. And invariably it is these high standards that make All Black rugby the force it is and are what will ensure they bounce back better than ever on their end of year tour to Europe.