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All Blacks take big step forward but Ian Foster notes major challenge ahead

By Tom Vinicombe
Aaron Smith, Ian Foster and Scott McLeod. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The 26-point margin at Eden Park on Saturday night may not have been the All Blacks‘ biggest win of the season, but it was perhaps the most complete performance from a side that’s endured their fair share of criticism throughout their campaign to date.

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After a string of up-and-down performances that saw them enter Saturday’s match with a loss-heavy home record for 2022, their five-try effort in Auckland will give the side plenty of confidence ahead of their trip north at the end of next month, which will see them take on Japan, Scotland, Wales and England in quick succession.

All four of those games are very winnable for the All Blacks – especially if they’re able to channel the same energy and aggression that got them over the line against their trans-Tasman rivals this weekend.

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“I’m just delighted with the performance,” Foster said after the 40-14 victory, which will likely secure the team the Rugby Championship for 2022. “I thought [it was a] great way to finish the Championship for us.

“We were really up for a big one here at Eden Park, last game, and I think there were still areas for improvement but I just loved the attitude and the strength. The set-piece went really well but overall the commitment to play the way we wanted to play was there and it was against a very physical Australian team.

“We had a little bit to overcome in that first 20 minutes so really proud of the effort and it’s given ourselves a chance anyway for the Championship.”

It was the Wallabies who were down to 14 men in the opening quarter and had to repeatedly defend their line against a dominant All Blacks scrum, but they somehow survived without conceding points.

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The All Blacks weren’t disheartened, however, and mixed up their play well, integrating hard-running forwards and fleet-footed backs into their attacking skirmishes, with Will Jordan eventually skipping outside of Jordan Petaia and touching down for the home side’s first try of the evening.

From there, the points started to consistently flow, and the Wallabies never really got close to wrestling control of the match, with repeated launches on the NZ goal line being well repelled. In fact, it wasn’t until 59 minutes into the game that the visitors were able to grab their first points.

“Probably the first 50, 60-odd minutes [was most pleasing],” said All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock. “Keeping them scoreless was massive, gave us massive confidence.

“There were some big shots put in there but at the same time, we didn’t get out of the tackle area quick enough and that put us under some pressure but the guys defending hard on our line, the desire was there, the effort was there, so that’s always the first thing you look at and the boys really showed what it means to play at home for our last Test match here in New Zealand for this year.”

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Having dropped matches to Ireland, South Africa and Argentina earlier in the season, the Wallabies are the first team to take on NZ and not taste victory in 2022. Still, last week’s win in Melbourne wasn’t exactly a comprehensive result, with the All Blacks ceding a couple of significant margins to almost lose the match at the death. While Foster said it was pleasing to improve in each Rugby Championship rematch this year, that’s not an opportunity that will present itself much moving forward and the All Blacks will need to step up their game in the many one-off fixtures they have coming up between now and the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

“You’re trying to learn, aren’t you?” he said. “You’re trying to learn before the first game too but the fact is that we’ve come through this championship and shown some growth in that aspect.

“It’s a loseable game when you play Australia at the moment because we saw last week how good and dangerous they can be and I think we saw spells of that again today. We had to be on our game and we had to improve and I thought we highlighted some areas that we felt we had some edges last week and I think we were a lot more ruthless how we exploited those this week.”

The All Blacks will next take the field against Japan on October 29, with a number of wider squad members expected to get a run in Tokyo.

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