Six talking points from the Bledisloe test in Perth.
THREE WEEKS TO GO AND COUNTING
No disrespect to Argentina, but anticipation for the All Blacks’ game with South Africa in Townsville on September 25 has surely zoomed past “toddler waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve” levels.
In their 38-21 belting of the Wallabies in Perth I hopefully saw the grit that’ll be needed to take on the heavy armament that is at the heart of the South Africa side.
Yes, the six tries were thrilling, but for the purist, and the anxious, it was the work at the breakdowns, the willingness and the skill to scrap expertly and tirelessly for the ball, that was just as satisfying.
The Wallabies, as expected, are still not good enough to be a real threat to this revitalised All Black side, but as raw as some of the Aussie players are they give it 100 per cent physically.
Watching All Blacks, like Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, and Nepo Laulala, who by comparison with the likes of Australian locks Darcy Swain and Matt Philip are grizzled veterans, being more ferocious in the pile-ups like the young guns, was a thing of brutal beauty.
STRANGE DAYS INDEED
Justice was seen to be done by the all-Australian refereeing team when they quite rightly disallowed two Wallaby tries, so good on Damon Murphy and his crew for that.
Did they get it right with Jordie Barrett? No question that the moment when the sprigged sole of Barrett’s right boot went perilously close to Marika Koribete’s eyes was horrific to look at.
What was problematic was the fact that both Barrett’s feet were off the ground, so strictly speaking, should Koribete have been avoiding contact, regardless of where Barrett’s foot eventually landed?
If ever there was a decision you’d like King Solomon to come back from the dead to rule on this was one.
For what it’s worth, I’m in the camp that feels the red card was enough, and no more punishment is needed.
NO NEED TO WONDER ANY MORE
Two years ago, out of the All Blacks, realising his previous views that “this mental health stuff was all rubbish”, Akira Ioane found himself finding no joy in the game, and was struggling off and on the field.
Physically Ioane has always been a magnificent prospect. This year all the promise seen by those who had been impressed with him from his days as a star in the Auckland Grammar First XV, has been realised.
His performance in Perth was complete vindication of All Black coach Ian Foster’s belief in him. Not only did he run in a way unmatched in recent times by any other loose forward in world rugby, but he was also relentless at breakdowns and on defence.
At a time when the mental health of sportspeople has never been more in the spotlight, how prescient were the words of Wayne Smith in November 2019?
Smith said it was more and more important for a coaching team to address mental health, and making sure that players aren’t just winning but are flourishing as people. The great thing for Kiwi fans is that in an All Black team that looks grounded and secure in themselves, players like Ioane can shine so brightly.
WELCOME BACK BIG GUY
It’s been suggested, and it felt pretty accurate, that Brodie Retallick would have to work his way back to top form after his return in May from two years in Japan.
The very phrase “working his way back” suggests a long, laborious process. After how he played in Perth he seems more like a man whose match fitness has advanced at about the same speed as a Rocket Lab satellite heading for space.
Scott Barrett was tireless and effective, and so was Retallick, back to being a triple threat at lineout, on attack, and in close quarter defence.
STAND BY ME
Defence at test level, one of our all-time great defensive players, 1987 World Cup winner Joe Stanley, once told me, was based on how much faith you had in your teammates.
One of the most impressive aspects of the terrific All Blacks performance was that there was hardly a trace of panic in the ranks when the Wallabies, through the likes of Samu Kerevi and Marika Koribete looked hugely threatening with the ball in hand.
There were the usual heavy hitting suspects like David Havili, Duncan Papalii, and Ardie Savea, but Will Jordan, as just one example, was grimly determined, and technically impeccable on the tackle.
The structure of the All Black defensive lines was at once precise and hard hitting, qualities they’ll need in the lead-up to, and at, the next World Cup.
KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE
As always, the quality of rugby, with teams that want to score tries, is always better when the players have the sun on their backs.
We’ve seen some great rugby since television’s commercial imperatives hijacked afternoon footy, but I’ll argue to the end that even the best night games would have been even better in daylight.
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