The All Blacks 36-0 thumping over the Wallabies was a direct turnaround from the result in Perth but the recipe was the same as old, punishing mistakes by dining on turnovers and kick returns to hit the visitors while vulnerable.
Three out of the All Blacks’ five tries came in transition with two directly from turnovers and one from a kick return, while Sevu Reece’s superb individual piece of skill came from the All Blacks’ own kick. A crash ball to Sonny Bill Williams delivered the other score during phase play.
This has been the model for quite some time for dismantling the Wallabies.
Since the last World Cup, nearly a third of all All Blacks tries, 31.2%, have come directly within one phase of a turnover or kick transition against them. Likely more have been scored in the one or two phases after. Click plays, as Wayne Smith called them, have been clicking the Wallabies’ butt.
It is the extra cream that has enabled the All Blacks to put record point differences up against Australia, averaging over 35 points per game since the World Cup, jumping up by about 10 points in the last decade. The number of tries has nearly doubled from the last four-year cycle, up from 2.92 to 5.18 per game.
Bad handling and poor kicking are fuel to the All Blacks machine and in testing conditions at Eden Park the Wallabies certainly provided that, coughing up ball regularly, forced and unforced.
With free-flowing situations unfolding, All Black rugby turns instinctual but highly deliberate. Every turnover? Spread to the edge. Or, more accurately, find the space. Getting to the edge is just a likely outcome. Simple, short passing will suffice – just make the decision quickly to find the unmarked man or mismatch.
The same philosophy is visible in nearly every All Blacks game. Whether it comes from winning lineout ball against the throw or stealing the ball at the ruck, you will see the ball moved through the hands quickly in search of the weak spot. Unscripted but targeted play.
A similar thought process is replicated on kick returns in the right situation.
“The previous week I kicked it and it didn’t work out so that was one of the learnings we made,” Barrett said about the Perth test.
Here is the situation he is referring to. From the scrum, the Wallabies wingers are half up in defence and Barrett kicks deep to find space available behind the defenders.
Kurtley Beale (15) has to backtrack but on the return serve kicks terribly, straight down the middle of the field.
The Wallabies defence is still backtracking from the congregation of the scrum, meaning they do not have the field spread well. Up to seven All Blacks are visible on the far side outside of the furthest Wallabies’ defenders, while Aaron Smith is circled at the bottom of the screen.
As Richie Mo’unga (10) brings it back, the Wallabies are caught really short with the All Blacks backline re-loading with Rieko Ioane (11), Jack Goodhue (13) and Anton Lienert-Brown (12) along with Beauden Barrett (15) linking in.
Faced with prop Allan Alaalatoa, flyhalf Christian Lealiifano and centre Samu Kerevi, Barrett chip kicks in behind despite having numbers, as well as Aaron Smith and Sam Cane running positive support lines to provide inside options.
At Eden Park a similar situation develops following an Aaron Smith box kick that is botched by Kurtley Beale. The All Blacks have a chance to kick long and find the turf again with the backfield depleted following the first kick.
Lealiifano has to backtrack before making the same mistake as Beale, kicking straight down the middle of the field. Aaron Smith is circled again in the middle of the picture.
The opportunity on the far side isn’t as great as it was in Perth but some speed by Barrett helps trim the numbers down.
Swerving away to the left side, Barrett is able to take out up to five defenders initially getting outside Lealiifano all the way to Nic White (9).
His pass to George Bridge (11) takes out one more defender in Adam Coleman and the All Blacks have a two-on-two in a large 15-metre corridor with a favourable one-on-one with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (6).
The Crusaders’ winger does the rest by skinning the loose forward and linking up with Aaron Smith back on the inside.
“We gave George a one-on-one on a forward and he cut them up,” Barrett said following the Eden Park victory.
“That was very satisfying. Probably because it was one of the bad clips we showed in review the previous week, of me doing a chip when we had the similar scenario.”
Despite missing out on the first opportunity in Perth, the All Blacks’ intent was on display in the second try, to Rieko Ioane, moments after Barrett’s ill-advised chip kick.
A cold drop by Lukhan Salakaia-Loto is caught by Anton-Lienert-Brown, who is tackled immediately. From the quick recycle, Aaron Smith links up with fullback Beauden Barrett flying up from fullback, looking to re-join the line and spark something.
Another long ball by Barrett finds Dane Coles on Allan Alaalatoa out on the edge, who slips the prop’s grasp and finds Aaron Smith on an inside support line. Rieko Ioane finishes the movement via a hook pass from his halfback.
It’s the same operating procedure with aesthetic differences and it’s killed the Wallabies time and time again over the last four years.
In Perth, the Wallabies dominated by playing possession-based rugby that controlled the clock and starved the All Blacks of the ball in the second half, despite giving away two turnover/transition tries in the first. They found a style that worked but couldn’t replicate that at Eden Park in wet conditions as a higher error count returned and the possession balance normalised.
The challenge for the Wallabies will be to execute the Perth gameplan in various conditions if they are to ever reclaim the Bledisloe, especially in matches played in New Zealand. Their best bet is a game under the roof in Dunedin and two more back in Australia.
For the All Blacks, averaging nearly 40 points a game against the Wallabies doesn’t foreshadow anything. The Northern Hemisphere teams don’t make half as many errors as Australia and they have far better kicking games.
A much tighter contest will ensue with far fewer windows to run rampant on counter-attack.
The only Northern Hemisphere team that the All Blacks have encountered in the knockout phases of the World Cup over the last two campaigns is France, with four out of the six games against familiar Rugby Championship opponents. The French are just as prone to error-ridden rugby as the Wallabies, which despite the jitters of the past, bodes well should that match-up happen again in Japan.
With only one game against England over the last four years, a 2-1 deficit against Ireland, and Wales now taking over the number one ranking, these are the matchups everyone wants to see. However, the All Blacks haven’t matched up against Ireland, Wales or England in a World Cup knockout match since 1995.
With a lack of serious competition in the Southern Hemisphere (until the recent Springboks revival), let’s hope the World Cup delivers the match-ups everyone is waiting for between the top four to five sides in the world – but don’t expect it to be so easy for the All Blacks to cut apart their opponents.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika after Bledisloe II loss:
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