22 Oct 2017

Out-All Blacked by the opposition

9:59 am on 22 October 2017

Opinion - Intensity. Gamesmanship. Clinical at the finish.

Ever since the All Blacks became World Champions, that's the sort of way you'd generally describe the way they'd casually dispatch opposition - but at fulltime at Suncorp Stadium last night, you could only level those platitudes at the Wallabies.

Australia's Israel Folau  is tackled by New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams, left, and Kieran Read, right.

Australia's Israel Folau is tackled by New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams, left, and Kieran Read, right. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

It was they who had taken their chances, held their discipline and prevailed by a slender margin, flipping the 'how to play the All Blacks' script on its head in front of an awestruck crowd.

The Wallabies out-All Blacked the All Blacks and proved that they'd learned their lesson from the heart-breaking 35-29 loss in Dunedin back in August. In fact, they were given an eerily familiar blueprint to work with midway through the first half: an exact replica 80-metre intercept first try to open the scoring, a scrum under constant pressure and Bernard Foley's kicking form going missing.

Clearly coach Michael Cheika had impressed on his team the importance of not giving an inch away to the All Blacks without a fight, and evidence of the tenacity of their performance can ironically be found in the two tries they conceded.

Both, to wingers Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane, were the product of some incredibly patient and accurate work by the All Blacks. The first came off a smooth lineout drive, then a series of pick and gos on the Wallabies' five-metre line. Aaron Smith simply waited for the right moment to fling the ball wide to open up space for Naholo to walk over.

Ioane's came from similar circumstances, but by the second half the All Blacks needed to dig deep and find some magic. Sonny Bill Williams and Kieran Read combined with a couple of beautiful offloads to give their winger the space to sprint in and score, but that was as much as the Wallabies would let them have.

Even when things went wrong for the home side, it was because of endeavour rather than mishap. Foley's courageous but foolhardy one-out run straight into 115kg Ofa Tu'ungafasi will go viral in no time, but the little first five getting lit up like that showed just how much the Wallabies wanted this game.

The impressive Reece Hodge, scorer of their first try, proved crucial with a long-range penalty before the end - proving also that Cheika had covered all his bases when planning what was always going to be a close-run victory.

I was at Olympic Park for the 54-35 demolition of Australian rugby way back in round one of the Rugby Championship, and the press conference afterwards wasn't a pretty sight. Michael Cheika and Michael Hooper had no answers for what had just gone so horribly wrong, nor did any of the ARU's very youthful staff. On the back of a shocking Super Rugby season and ongoing debacle about whether the Western Force would still exist, it was about as crushing a blow as one could imagine.

Yes, this test was a dead rubber in the grand scheme of things, and the All Blacks clearly missed the influential Beauden Barrett a bit more than anyone wanted to admit before the game. But that's no excuse, because it's time to hail what was an incredible turnaround by the Wallabies.

They got off the canvas in Dunedin, showing they could at least foot it with the big, bad neighbourhood bully that is the All Blacks. But last night they went the full distance, and deserve all the praise for it.

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