All Blacks vs Wallabies
8pm, Telstra Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA)
Half-time: AUS 12 NZ 12
Full-time: AUS 23 NZ 18
(NZRugby.com play by play)
Yet again we have proof that recent form has little or no bearing on what will happen when two of the top 5 rugby nations line up for a test match.
In this case, from a NZ rugby supporter's point of view that makes for a frustrating reminder, but from the perspective of a rugby fan that is just one of the many reasons why we love this game.
In their two home games NZ dominated possession and territory in difficult conditions and while they couldn't turn those into a lot of points (tries particularly) they won both games.
Based on those facts the concensus view (on this side of the Tasman at least) seemed to be that on a dry ground in Sydney all that possession was finally going to convert into a flood of tries as the much vaunted flat backline set Joe Rokstar and Dougie Howlett loose to run havoc.
Instead of that script what actually happened was the Wallabies had the best of the possession and territory (with a huge advantage in the middle 50 minutes of the game) and it was their deep backline formation that looked far more dangerous than the constant string of hospital passes that pretty much summed up much of the backline play of their AB opposition.
Sure the All Blacks did show some good attacking phases but most of it was by the forwards (and the tight forwards at that), as soon as the ball got out to the backs things just didn't quite click.
As it has in the previous 3 Tri-Nations battles this season defense had a far bigger impact on the game than attack, which meant that any scoring opportunities (shots at goal or tri-scoring chances) were critical to be taken.
Apart from a woeful penalty effort from Carlos all the goal kickers handled the pressure pretty well (Carter was 4/5, Giteau 4/4 and Mehrtens 1/1, Spencer 1/2 and Burke 2/2) but the key scoring play was the sole try of the match, by Lote Tuquiri.
Tuquiri had a great match on the whole, and was particularly effective at controlling the kickoffs when Larkham went to his side of the field rather than the side where all the forwards were congregated.
Other standouts for the Wallabies were Smith, Waugh and Nathan Sharpe in the forward pack and Latham at fullback.
Honestly no-one on either team really had a poor game, but I don't think any of the ABs would have been very happy with their attacking game, although there were some outstanding defensive efforts from a number of guys on both sides.
On the whole the All Blacks probably had the edge in the set pieces, they gave the Wallaby scrum a real tough time, and both sides stole some lineout ball from their opposition. Hayman and Williams were probably the standouts in the forward pack, with Williams being the main target at lineout time and Hayman doing a mountain of work running the ball up on attack and making tackles on defense.
The thing that was the most disappointing about the All Black's performance was that this flat backline thing still isn't working, and I don't think the blame can fall on numbers 9 and 10 either, Mehrts got a good 20 minutes of game time but didn't go much better than Carlos. I know that people will be blaming Marshall but I don't buy that, or the idea that Kelleher would have done any better, for my money Kelleher and Marshall play a very similar confrontational half-back game and Marshall plays it better.
The thing I would really have liked to see is that when Mehrts came on they changed their backline formation, and started running a deep backline, just for some variation. Persisting with a game plan that obviously isn't working just makes no sense, although the AB coaching staff certainly weren't conceeding that in any post match interviews.
It will be interesting to see if they mix it up at all next week, both the starting lineup and the backline formation.
The man with the whistle, Jonathan Kaplan, had a pretty good game on the whole. He certainly missed a few offside incidents around the rucks I thought but on the whole he was consistant, and certainly the All Blacks deserved to get penalised when they did and Ali Williams was just the unlucky man to take 10 in the bin for the team when Kaplan got tired of it. His little exchange with Gregan was a cracker too, very amusing.
I don't think even the most one-eyed All Black fan would begrudge the Wallabies this win, and it certainly makes the two games in South Africa very interesting, with the potential for all three sides to take out the Tri-nations trophy, and even the possibility of all three sides to finish up on 10 competition points (assuming the Boks win their home games, but by 7 or less).
If that happens then it will come down to point differential I presume, let's hope it doesn't come to that!
It certainly was good to see Mehrts getting some meaningful game time in a top match again, and congrats to him on passing 200 points against Australia with his penalty goal. I believe that is a world record for points by a player against any one opposition nation.