The All Blacks dominance over the Wallabies has never been more assured over recent seasons as they enjoyed their most fruitful period ever.
The last World Cup cycle saw the All Blacks average more than five tries a game against Australia. Since the pro era began, it had never been more than three.
The back half of the Hansen-era saw an unprecedented period of high-scoring rugby against the Wallabies. Cheika’s outfit were unable to diagnose and repair the problems in their game, and the All Blacks were able to put on a magnificent show highlighting the difference in skill levels between the two sides.
Partly through ignorance, the Wallabies continued to play beyond their means, attempting plays they could not execute, with such a lack of precision it made the ideas look half-baked in the first place.
Bledisloe Cup rugby became stuck in a ‘groundhog day’ period of repetition.
Wallabies errors would fuel a rampant All Black counter attacking machine, who would pile on tries and look untouchable, furthering their claim as the best team in the world.
However, as the back end of 2018 and the World Cup showed, this magic fountain was not flowing against every side.
The crux of the equation for any team trying to beat the All Blacks is to unequivocally turn this tap off, which the likes of Ireland, England and South Africa have done at varying points in time.
When Ireland were at the top of their game under Joe Schmidt, you’d be lucky to see one ball dropped, stolen or stripped away. The type of game the Irish played worked to knock off the number one side two years ago.
The ‘starvation’ of any broken play opportunity in Dublin 2018 forced the All Blacks to score through other, more tougher, means. It proved too difficult, a 14-man Irish wall could not be broken in that 16-9 defeat.
Fast forward to the World Cup quarterfinal 12 months later, and Ireland were a shell of themselves a year prior. They could not perform the most basic of starter players designed by Schmidt, stuck in a mental fog that produced error after error, all playing into the All Blacks favour.
Aaron Smith’s first try can be traced back to Sam Cane stripping a weak carry from Robbie Henshaw on first phase and forcing a knock-on around midfield. From the scrum, the All Blacks steamrolled Ireland down to their own goal line before they cracked under the weight of second high-phase possession.
Smith’s second try came from Ireland losing control of their own throw, leading to a knock-on by Tadhg Furlong and giving the All Blacks another midfield scrum.
George Bridge nearly scored in the corner from the first phase strike play and the All Blacks halfback finished on the next.
Down 17-0, the straw that really broke the camel’s back was a dropped ball by Sexton during a starter play sequence. Ireland had the All Blacks on the back foot, but botched running lines on the second phase caused Sexton to hesitate, get hit and spill the ball.
That loose ball was hacked ahead 50-metres in the opposite direction for Beauden Barrett to pounce on and push the lead out to 22-0.
Ireland were dead after 35-minutes, deep in a hole with only a shovel to get themselves out of it.
The first two tries to Aaron Smith came from a turn of momentum after errors, but the third one to Barrett was an opportunistic play spawning from a coach-killer that practically gave the points away.
It is these coach-killers that have also continually been the bain of the Wallabies’ Bledisloe hopes, adding extra gravy onto the All Blacks score, forcing them to almost always chase the game.
In last year’s return Bledisloe at Eden Park, Richie Mo’unga broke open a tough first half by scooping up a dropped pass from Reece Hodge and scampering away down the touch line to build a 10-0 lead.
Two minutes later, the All Blacks skinned the Wallabies on a kick return after a poor clearance and, all of a sudden, what was 3-0, became 17-0 in a blink.
This is the point where game plans go out the window, extra passes are pushed trying to chase the game, and players start trying to make things happen that aren’t ordinarily part of the plan.
The problem is this is more fuel to the fire and often results in more All Blacks counter-attacking opportunities.
Case in point, already down 31-0 in the same clash with a few minutes remaining, Samu Kerevi took a quick tap inside his own 22 after a mark and attempted to run the ball out to try and spark an ad-hoc play.
He was turned over by Ardie Savea at the ruck and easy hands to the edge added an extra try to top off a 36-0 win.
There have been at least two or three tries per game gifted away by the Wallabies in this fashion over this period, at the same time the All Blacks are scoring a record 35.6 points per game against them.
The question the Wallabies must ask is, how much ball-in-hand rugby do they want to play? Because too much may play straight into the All Blacks hands as it has for the last four years.
One of the All Blacks greatest weapons is sniffing out these moments of weakness and uncertainty and striking in disorganised windows. When things go wrong for the opposition, they really go wrong, and the game is taken away.
Taking a more compact game plan with efficient exits, smart kicking and lower ball-in-hand phase counts into this year’s Bledisloe will help to turn off the turnover tap and keep the game closer.
That must be the starting point for Rennie’s young side – learn not to lose by an embarrassing amount. If they do that, there will be authentic pressure at the back end of the game, where anything can happen.
Just ask the Springboks about the Wellington test in 2018.
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