All Blacks gave 'too many soft penalties' says Richie Mo'unga
The All Blacks‘ 33-25 win over the Wallabies in the first Bledisloe at Eden Park was the result that they wanted for Aaron Smith in his 100th game for the All Blacks, but there are plenty of work-ons for the side after a lacklustre start and finish to the match.
The All Blacks struggled to gain ascendency early as they turned the ball over many times in contact. First five Richie Mo’unga put it down to trying to ‘spread the ball too much’ in the opening period, and suggested that they would go for a more direct approach next week.
“To get a win, it was our goal and to do so for Nuggy [Aaron Smith] and the milestone that he has now, it’s pretty special,” Mo’unga told reporters after the game.
“Some things to work on for us.
“There are some things that we can talk about how we started.
“I think we probably spread the ball too much in that first bit where we could’ve been a bit more direct, and that would’ve given the forwards a bit more confidence.
“But that’s just a good learning for us. Next week we will be able to put that into action.”
Despite the lack of flow in the first 20 minutes, the All Blacks kicked three penalties to build a 9-3 lead with the wind behind their backs in the first half before a set-piece strike move from the Wallabies caught the All Blacks napping and Andrew Kellaway scored the opening try of the match.
Wallabies flyhalf Noah Lolesio missed the conversion that would have put them in front, indicative of a tough night from the tee on both sides as the strong wind played a part.
Mo’unga had his own struggles with wind, admitting that he perhaps should have given the tee to Jordie Barrett when the All Blacks had to push into the wind.
“The wind was pretty tough in that second half, probably just should have given it to Jordie because I didn’t have the legs from the sideline,” he said.
At 9-8 the All Blacks struck a key blow on the edge of halftime, when Whitelock turned down a shot at goal to kick for the corner. The gamble was rewarded when Sevu Reece dove over from close range to give his side a 16-8 lead at the break.
After Lolesio hooked a long-range penalty left early in the second half, the All Blacks threatened to break the game open with a spectactular long-range movement sparked by Richie Mo’unga running it out of their own half.
The 90-metre movement was called back after a forward pass from Aaron Smith to Brodie Retallick, with another questionable pass from Damian McKenzie to Rieko Ioane earlier in the movement overlooked, but highlighted the danger the All Blacks possess as a running team.
“I was pretty gutted it got disallowed, it was a pretty cool try,” he lamented.
“Just seeing the boys go to work. That’s some All Black rugby that we like to see, and I remember watching as a kid tries like that.
“Just showed that when the boys wanted to turn it on, they could. The fact that we were into the wind had a big part in that too.
“That was the reason why we decided to play another phase, because if we kicked it from the first ruck it would’ve been their line out just outside the 22.”
With the game in the balance at 16-8 and the Wallabies desperately needing to score next, it was Mo’unga who came up with the defining play, snatching an intercept from a Hunter Paisami cutout pass with the Australians threatening.
The deflating play put the Wallabies in a 23-8 hole that few teams have been able to come back from, particularly at Eden Park. Mo’unga’s heads-up play was something that was on the cards, as part of his duties covering the backfield and last man.
“It was something we had planned, I was covering the backfield space, just making sure I could make a ball-and-all tackle on Petaia or else he would probably run over me,” he said of the try.
The intercept led to a wave of All Blacks points, with David Havili and Damian McKenzie scoring off crisp passes from Aaron Smith in the same corner.
Up 33-8, the All Blacks looked like putting the Wallabies in the grave with another comprehensive beating on the Eden Park turf but a failure to keep the foot on the throat let the Wallabies back in.
Mo’unga said the side gave away too many ‘soft penalties’ which gave the Australians prime attacking real estate. They managed to score three tries in the final twenty minutes, storming back to finish only eight points behind at 33-25.
“We did some things really well, that we are really proud of but we just gave them some soft penalties which allowed them to stay in the game,” he said.
“The wind was a big factor [in the second half], going into the wind.
“When you kick to touch, it’s an easy 40 metres and we are defending on our line for a bit.
“If we take away those silly penalties, those are things that we can control into next week.
“In the first half, they could have turned those into points if they weren’t going into the wind.”
The story of the game became the kicking, as Lolesio finished two from seven leaving 12 points on the park with two missed penalties and three missed conversions.
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