They made hard work of it, but the All Blacks have finished the 2010 Tri-Nations unbeaten with a 23-22 win over the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday night. The win was the All Blacks 10th straight over the Wallabies, breaking their previous record of nine. They also extended their streak of 15 consecutive wins in all tests and are looking good to break the current record of 18 held by Lithuania.
The game started at a fast pace, as we have come to expect from these two teams this year, with both teams looking to spread the ball early and play a positive style of rugby.
After obtaining a 6-3 lead, it all started to go horribly wrong for the All Blacks, as they blew chance after chance while the Wallabies continued to apply pressure, scoring a try through James O'Connor and scoring two more penalties to take the score to 14-6 at the break.
For the first time this season the All Blacks were being outplayed, unable to finish their opportunities and looking dodgy on defence as the Wallabies continued to fire wave after wave of attack at them.
The Wallabies carried their momentum into the second half, touching down for another try courtesy of Adam Ashley-Cooper and kicking a fourth penalty goal, inflating the score to an almost unthinkable 22-6.
By then the All Blacks had had enough and finally started to show some urgency as they realised that there was a game to be won. Piri Weepu took the score to 22-9 with a third penalty before the real comeback began.
Pressure was the key to the All Blacks game and some strong forward play eventually saw Richie McCaw cross the line with 15 to go after a well worked scrum. Weepu slotted the conversion to take the All Blacks within six.
After regaining good field position, they made sure of it with a converted try to Kieran Read in the 72nd minute to snatch the game from the Wallabies.
On the whole, it was a very sloppy performance from an All Black side who looked rusty and seemed to lack the high level of intensity they have shown this year.
Aaron Cruden struggled in his first All Black start. His tactical kicking was poor and was found wanting at times while directing play. Daniel Carter, who has proven to be irreplaceable in recent years, will be welcomed back warmly for the end of year tour.
That's not to say he was the only one.
Conrad Smith had an uncharacteristic bad game, missing a couple of tackles and struggling to hold onto the ball, as did his midfield partner, Ma'a Nonu.
The back three of Mils Muliaina, Israel Dagg and Cory Jane was solid without being outstanding, while Piri Weepu gave a passable performance from halfback.
In the forwards Richie McCaw gave a man of the match performance, effecting many turnovers and being his usual brilliant self. Kieran Read also had a good game, getting involved and making some good runs with ball in hand.
The locking pair of Thorn and Donnelly were their usual consistent selves, both doing their jobs around the park. Owen Franks reminded us why he's the No. 1 prop in New Zealand, while Tony Woodcock was rather quiet.
An early injury saw Keven Mealamu leave the field, who proved to be a big loss as his replacement Corey Flynn had a night to forget, struggling to connect at lineout time.
Jerome Kaino was outstanding off the bench, offering that hard-edge the All Blacks had been lacking in the first half, putting in some big hits on defence swinging momentum the All Blacks way.
Colin Slade impressed on debut and seemed to control the game at first-five much more confidently than Cruden after making his entrance with 20 to go.
The Wallabies had a good game in general, but again failed to finish off their opponent, giving up a 16-point lead. This is something that is starting to become worrying for them, having let their opposition back into the game after obtaining big leads.
The backline operated well, asking questions of the All Blacks defence. The back three of Kurtley Beale, Lachie Turner, and James O'Connor impressed, all proving to be dangerous, while first-five Quade Cooper kicked for territory well. Up front, they matched the All Blacks, getting the better of them in the lineout, but suffered from a brilliant performance from Richie McCaw. Matt Giteau missed four kicks at goal, proving to be fatal to his team.
Their last two wins has shown us the All Blacks ability to come from behind to win games, something they had been criticised of being unable to do earlier on this season. Last night's game also shows us that the Wallabies are capable of beating the All Blacks on any given day, and will be right up there come the World Cup in one year's time.