Wallabies coach Dave Rennie threatened selection changes after a diabolical 40 missed tackles consigned Australia to yet more Bledisloe Cup despair at Eden Park. The Wallabies came crashing back to earth after last week’s thrilling 16-16 draw in Wellington as the All Blacks piled on four tries to one in a 27-7 rebound rout in Auckland on Sunday.
In chalking up their 20th straight trans-Tasman victory at Eden Park since 1986, no All Black was more destructive in punishing the Wallabies for their defensive deficiencies than rookie winger Caleb Clarke.
The 21-year-old son of former All Blacks centre Eroni Clarke was nigh-on unstoppable on debut, with three line breaks and 10 tackle busts from eight runs earning him a standing ovation.
“He was a handful,” said Rennie, who blamed the Wallabies’ horror missed tackle count as the chief reason for their downfall.
“Last week we tackled really well and we made minimal mistakes. We always knew that was important against the All Blacks. Today we turned the ball over a lot and then missed too many tackles. The initial tackle was poor and we got put under heat from it.
“You just can’t gift the All Blacks that much ball. They’ve got too many athletes who can hurt you and that’s what we saw today.”
Trailing 10-0 after an early Richie Mo’unga penalty and Aaron Smith try in the 23rd minute, the Wallabies were only down by three points at the break after Marika Koroibete’s reply on the half-hour.
But the loss of midfield playmaker Matt To’omua to a recurring groin injury before halftime and quickfire tries after the resumption to All Blacks Jordie Barrett and Ardie Savea turned the game on its head.
Suddenly behind 20-7, the Wallabies lamented Koroibete not being able to ground the ball for a second try and then hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa being penalised for double movement having touched down shortly after.
“We score there – (to make it) 20-14 – and maybe we’re in the match,” Rennie said.
Alas, they weren’t and it was all over when All Blacks skipper Sam Cane crossed for his side’s fourth try in the 53rd minute.
Asked if there was any solace in knowing the Wallabies could turn the series around by solving their defensive problems, Rennie said: “Selection can sometimes fix that, can’t it?”
"The environment couldn’t be better set-up to avoid spread. Let’s hope it works out. Please God, we’ll get lucky"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 18, 2020
The no-nonsense first-year Wallabies coach has already shown he’s not afraid to make tough calls, having relegated four players even after last Sunday’s stirring draw – Australia’s closest call in New Zealand in 19 years.
But Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, while disappointed with the result, felt the defensive shortfalls were as much about the All Blacks’ domination of the breakdown and possession.
“They made us pay on our turnovers,” Hooper said.
The 2020 final had it all, including confusion at the finish over timekeeping ?? https://t.co/3LEsZzqBLq
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 17, 2020
“When you’re retreating and missing tackles, our line’s going back and they’re coming forward it’s hard.”
Either way, the Wallabies’ 20-point defeat leaves Hooper’s men needing to win the final two games of the the series – in Sydney on October 31 and in Brisbane on November 7 – to get their hands back on the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2003.
While offering no excuse, Rennie revealed the Wallabies’ preparation had been disrupted by dynamic back-rower Harry Wilson being hospitalised for 36 hours last week with a foot infection.
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