The All Blacks have bounced back from the 16-all draw with the Wallabies in Wellington just over a week ago, by recording a convincing victory over their Trans-Tasman rivals at Eden Park.
After a closely contested first-half, the hosts ran away with the match after the break. The All Blacks scored 17 points in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, and the Wallabies had no answers, the game finishing 27-7.
For the Wallabies, their hoodoo at Eden Park continues for at least another year, having not won beaten New Zealand at the Auckland venue since 1986.
The All Blacks on the other hand are now just one win away from reclaiming the Bledisloe Cup. That being said, the next two matches are across the Tasman in Australia, where a Wallabies win in Sydney would set up a decider in Brisbane, a place the All Blacks haven’t had too much success at as of late. Here are five talking points that came out of Bledisloe II.
More late hits from the Wallabies.
The Wallabies were caught out last week for late hits on flyhalf Richie Mo’unga.
All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree said in the leadup to Bledisloe II that while it was annoying, that “All Blacks don’t cry” and that they’d “just get on with it.”
The second Bledisloe test delivered plenty of drama again, including some more questionable strategies from the Wallabies defence.
20-year-old Harry Wilson could be seen hitting Beauden Barrett late on a couple of occasions throughout the test. Just before Aaron Smith’s try, Barret placed a lovely weighted kick, forcing a five-metre scrum after Marika Koroibete was tackled in-goal.
But in back play, Wilson had hit Barrett late. Could’ve been overlooked had it not have happened again later in the test.
Dirty tactics or is it the physicality that’s needed to compete at this level?
Coach Dave Rennie was adamant post-match that there’s been no plan to target the All Blacks playmakers, despite the incidents over the past two matches.
“Harry is a big man, any big man gets anywhere near a little guy, he wants to have a crack at him,” Rennie stated.
While these moments have been pretty inconsequential up until this stage, if these late hits continue, then how long until an injury occurs? A red card even?
Even though these moments aren’t planned, the youthful Wallabies have to make sure that the golden generation isn’t marred by a reputation of foul play.
Can the Wallabies fix their defensive woes?
40 missed tackles – yikes. It’s a pretty telling stat for the Wallabies, who seemed to fall apart in defence, especially in the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
The All Blacks led by just three points at the break, but by the 54th minute, the hosts were up by 20.
Post-game Dave Rennie acknowledged that the Wallabies had “missed too many tackles,” and veteran prop James Slipper echoed those comments on Monday morning.
“With such powerful players like Clarke and co, they’re hard to bring down when it’s one-on-one. It comes down to making your tackles individually, we just didn’t perform individually well enough in defence,” Slipper said.
“A lot of those tackles we hit well and just kind of fell off. At the end of the day, you’ve got to make those tackles stick.”
Slipper also guaranteed that “it’ll be a better outcome” in Sydney, but that all depends on this glaring issue.
How much they can fix their defensive woes will go a long way to determining Bledisloe III. I don’t think anyone expects the Wallabies to miss 40 tackles again, but they’d have to improve considerably to be in with a chance. Their defence won the All Blacks the test on Sunday.
Matt To’omua’s injury
This is a big loss for the Wallabies.
Just before half-time, Matt To’omua limped off the field injured with a groin injury, and the Wallabies never really recovered. The 30-year-old has proven himself to be a leader amongst a youthful and inexperienced backline, both in attack and defence.
In the first Bledisloe Cup test, his defence stood out. In the second clash, while he only played just under a half, he contributed heavily to Australia’s only try of the match.
After Ned Hanigan made a line break through the middle of the All Blacks defensive line, it would’ve been easy for the Wallabies to force something. Instead, To’omua played calculated and patient rugby, handing the ball off to Taniela Tupou before a perfect pass to Marika Koroibete let the winger cross for a try.
A big talking point out of this game has to be the loss of Matt To’omua, and more so, who’ll likely have to replace him in Bledisloe III in Sydney.
Hunter Paisami replaced To’omua and did a decent job, but just like at the Reds, James O’Connor plays arguably his best rugby at 10 when there’s an inside centre who can step up as a playmaker when needed.
Irae Simone could potentially make his test debut, or Noah Lolesio could possibly slot in at 10 while O’Connor shifts into the midfield. Plenty of debate and speculation will no doubt occur over the next couple of weeks but overall, this is massive for the Wallabies’ Bledisloe hopes.
The influence of 21-year-old sensation Caleb Clarke
The All Blacks have been blessed over the years with some incredible talent to have earned their way into the test side, and go on to shine. More recently, wingers Julian Savea and Rieko Ioane both shone from early on in their careers, and Caleb Clarke is no different.
At just 21-years-old, and after just one start for the All Blacks, Clarke is already drawing comparisons between him and the late great, Jonah Lomu.
Clarke ran for 138 metres and beat 14 defenders, in what was arguably a player of the match performance from the exciting talent. The Wallabies missing 40 tackles was largely due to the damage he did, and the gold jerseys he left in his wake every time he got his hands on the ball.
But after only having played two test matches, the praise and comparisons that Clarke is earning is putting plenty of pressure on his young shoulders. His impact was incredible, and his humbleness post-game should also be admired.
For the Wallabies to win Bledisloe III, Clarke will have to be controlled as much as possible. But when he’s playing like he did on Sunday, the question would have to be asked: could any team in World Rugby could contain him.
At such a young age, it’ll be really exciting to see what he can achieve in a black jersey.
The Mo’unga-Barrett combination takes a small step forward
For whatever reason, these two have never really been able to get the best out of each other while playing on the same team.
Mo’unga has been arguably the best domestic 10 in New Zealand for some time, winning four straight titles with the Crusaders, including Super Rugby Aotearoa this year. But he’s never quite been able to click at test level – until now; Sunday was a step in the right direction.
Mo’unga lined up alongside Barrett again, for the first time since the All Blacks Bronze Final in Tokyo last year, and they complement each other well enough. As a playmaker Mo’unga did his job, maybe not to the same standard that he would when he wears red, but it was still positive.
If anything it was a shame for Mo’unga that Barrett had one of his best performances in a black jersey, while wearing the 15 on his back. Barrett ran freely and effectively, and as a playmaker he was impressive as well.
While it would be an absolute godsend for the All Blacks to have both players playing as well as we know they can, not overplaying their hand might just be the best thing for the side as a whole as they look to get the most out of each other. Sunday was a step in the right direction for the combination.
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