Chris Sheil’s match preview ended up being pretty well spot on. The All Blacks tried to play the grinding, possession-based rugby they’ve reverted to this season with such success. However, except for the first 20 minutes, the Wallabies matched and then outpointed them 23-15. As Chris observed:
If Eddie Jones hasn’t worked out how to counter this style by now, he should hand back half his pay packet.
Well, Eddie’s family won’t be living on dog food this week, because he had worked it out. The Australian forwards had the technique as well as the passion and commitment that Troppo comment box pundit Peter Ransen feared Jones couldn’t instil. They controlled possession even better than the All Blacks in the second half. George Smith and Nathan Sharp would be my standout picks, but the entire pack did well.
Chris Sheil will be doubly happy that his ageing hero Matt Burke got a run in the centres in his last test on Australian soil, after Stirling Mortlock got crunched a couple of times and had to leave the field. Burkie had his usual workmanline game, thankfully wasn’t shown up in defence (as he had been a few times over the last year or so), and displayed his customary radar boot.
5/8 Stephen Larkham would be my pick in the backs, and for man of the match generally … not quite in Andrew Johns’ league yet, but not far off. CS’s bete noire fullback Chris Latham even played well, and Wendell did a couple of good things when he came on as a late replacement. All in all a great night for the Wallabies, and a vintage Bledisloe clash.
I can’t help having a whinge about the referee though. The South African ref (whose name slips my mind) let the NZ backs camp offside in the Wallabies’ faces all night, and even had the gall to reverse a penalty to Australia when Gregan politely (by his standards anyway) pointed out that they’d been infringing repeatedly in exactly the same way. He eventually walked Ali Williams for it, but well after the Blacks’ tactic had become a complete joke.
Of course, the Boks do exactly the same only worse. Referees are going to have to start enforcing the offside rule much more strictly, or international rugby is likely to degenerate into a dour defensive game and lose some of the massive popularity it’s deservedly achieved over the last few seasons. Fans want to see great attacking rugby, not a boring, in-your-face arm wrestle. Then again, I was an outside back so you’d expect that’s what I’d think. Wayne Wood loves nothing better than watching a bunch of big dumb meathead forwards mixing it.
* The photo adorning this story shows big dumb meathead forwards Ali Williams and Justin Harrison mixing it, and was copied from the News Online website. What with my renewed enthusiasm for the blog’s appearance, I’ll take the copyright breach risk. I don’t imagine my rugby reports pose a massive commercial threat to Rupert.