In truth the Wallabies played well for just 43 minutes last week against the All Blacks, but that was enough.
The narrow points margin added to the drama and anxiety for their supporters, but the All Blacks were fortunate to be within striking distance of snatching a late win.
Ordinary first half
The Wallabies were ordinary for most of the first half. Their clean-outs at the breakdown were inaccurate, carries weren’t getting over the advantage line, and handling errors were frequent. They were incapable of stringing phases together and launching attacks from their set piece. Yet despite their best efforts to hamstring their endeavours, they still managed to score two tries and went into the break one point behind. Most importantly, while they weren’t making dominant tackles, they weren’t missing many tackles.
In the context of the match, it was the score by Israel Folau that was crucial.
The All Blacks are past masters in scoring during those vital 10 minute periods on either side of the break. The intercept try by Hodge, although spectacular, was cancelled out by the try to Waisake Naholo. And after two penalties, the All Blacks were leading 13-7 with three minutes until the halftime hooter.
Sopoaga then faced a counterattacking opportunity and chose to kick downfield, a decision made worse by its length and poor chase.
Kurtley Beale fielded the kick and immediately attacked. Such is his form this season most things he touches seem to turn to gold, maybe not immediately, but something happens. Initially, the Wallabies weren’t presenting an obvious threat; obvious being the operative word here. That was until Foley created space on the left-hand flank.
The All Blacks were just holding on in defence, but so often this is enough for them. They find a way. But then Wyatt Crockett missed a tackle on the talismanic Michael Hooper, which in turn led to a beautifully worked try to Folau.
The Wallabies had seized the momentum. In a period where in the past the All Blacks have done just that. Think World Cup Final 2015. And like the All Blacks in that match, they rarely eased off.
Lukhan Tui was substituted for the injured Rob Simmons when the Wallabies forwards began to impose themselves on the match, exerting sustained pressure on the All Blacks. They maintained possession, reduced their unforced errors, pinned the All Blacks down in their half and were winning the battle at the advantage line. It was as if the Wallabies found the All Blacks DNA and pulled off an identity theft.
Their porous defence from Sydney was unrecognisable, the line bent at times but didn’t become jagged. Players trusted each other and their system, and as they frustrated the All Blacks into committing more errors and penalties, their self-belief grew. The All Blacks were fortunate Foley couldn’t convert three of the seven penalties awarded during this period. Converting those opportunities would have finished off the All Blacks chances there and then.
But it didn’t matter, this was to be Australia’s night, and perhaps inspired by their new jersey recognising their indigenous roots, they were determined not to be dissuaded by any missed opportunity or mishap thrown their way, including the expected All Blacks fightback.
It was a tough night for the All Blacks against a steadily improving Wallaby opponent. Time will tell if this result signals a closing gap between the sides, or confirm they’re a work in progress stepping out from the shadows of the world cup winning team.
Photos: www.davidmolloyphotography.com, via Wikimedia Commons
Author: Sam Taulelei
I discovered my passion for watching sport later in life.
As a kid I enjoyed playing sport more than watching it on TV. Then I discovered the power of books and would lose many hours reading about different sports and participants. My passion for reading and writing led me to a career in…….IT, yep I know.
Anyway it wasn’t until the emergence of this little thing called the internet that I rekindled my first love of sport and writing about it. I have a natural curiosity and love to solve the question of why did something happen as opposed to just writing about what happened.
I’m Wellington born and raised now living across the ditch.