18 Aug 2019

Turnaround shows reports of All Blacks' demise exaggerated

3:00 pm on 18 August 2019

It took the All Blacks almost two hours after the final whistle to make it to their press conference. The official line was that they'd had the prime minister and the Wallabies in their changing room to socialise, but no one was buying that.

Anton Lienert-Brown.

Anton Lienert-Brown makes a break for the All Blacks against the Wallabies at Eden Park. The All Blacks won, 36-0. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

After the turnaround that saw them come from a record loss to an almost record win in just a week, everyone trying not to nod off as the clock ticked past 11pm knew full well that the All Blacks were going to take their sweet time. Especially since there were plenty in the media room who had cast doubts over the ability of Steve Hansen's side to bounce back after the disaster in Perth.

Thirty-six-nil - only one point off matching the most iconic Bledisloe hiding the All Blacks have ever put on the Wallabies, in the driving rain and mud of Athletic Park in 1996. Many questions were asked during the week leading up to the Eden Park test last night. All of them were answered.

While we sat and waited for them to arrive, we started going through just what the All Blacks had proved. The Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga combo had its best outing yet, mainly because Mo'unga was allowed to run the show fully. Barrett sat back and stayed content to play the traditional role of fullback, instead of chiming in at first receiver constantly like he has done for the past two games. Mo'unga had probably his best game in an All Black jersey, despite an uncharacteristic miss of an easy penalty at the end of the first half.

Richie Mo'unga on his way to the try line.
New Zealand All Blacks v Australian Wallabies. Bledisloe Cup rugby union test match. Eden Park, Auckland. Saturday 17 August 2019.

Richie Mo'unga produced his best display in an All Blacks jersey. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Patrick Tuipolotu stood up and put in a huge shift to make up for an almost invisible performance last weekend off the bench. He's long got by on reputation alone, so to see him hurling his big frame into rucks and tackles was immensely reassuring. Brodie Retallick will hopefully be back, but last night showed Tuipolotu's big game ability very much exists and can be called upon.

The two inexperienced test wingers, George Bridge and Sevu Reece, both ended up on the scoresheet. As well as that, Bridge's defensive work saw him create the first try with a tackle that dislodged the ball from Reece Hodge's hands. He then turned provider with a stunning break and then perfect pass inside for Aaron Smith to score. Reece, meanwhile, looked dangerous every time he got the ball. Right now, you'd have to wonder if Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith are actually going to make it back into the starting XV.

But perhaps the biggest question to be answered was that of just how important Sonny Bill Williams is to the All Black gameplan. The big man had one of his most influential games in a black jersey, stabilising play in the midfield and then hurling himself onto a pass in the 45th minute to score a try that effectively killed off any hopes of a Wallaby comeback.

Williams was always going to be on the plane to Japan next month, but this display will at least provide some positive evidence to present to any of the blowhards out there who seem unimpressed with anything he does.

All Blacks player Sonny Bill Williams goes in for a try during the 2nd Bledisloe Cup Rugby game. All Blacks v Australia. Auckland, New Zealand. Saturday 17 August 2019.

Sonny Bill Williams proved his importance to the All Blacks' backline. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

All of that, and the fact that the All Blacks didn't even concede a point - which meant their defensive structure is entirely effective when they get it right. There was a lot of talk last week about having the right attitude going into the match, and it rang true if that really was the only thing different between this game and the last one.

Finally, after all that waiting, Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Kieran Read entered the packed room and sat down at the table at the front. It wasn't a look of smugness, or even relief on their faces. Before they'd even answered question one, the performance coupled with a steely gaze of determination on the task ahead, answered basically everything we needed to know anyway.

This is what they're taking to the World Cup. Rumours of the All Blacks' demise have been greatly, greatly exaggerated.

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