30 Jul 2023

Bledisloe bloodbath: Statement win by the All Blacks

11:47 am on 30 July 2023
Cam Roigard of New Zealand holds the Bledisloe Cup as Sam Cane and the All Blacks celebrate after they won the New Zealand All Blacks v Australian Wallabies Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship test match at the MCG, Melbourne, Australia on Saturday 29 July 2023.

Cam Roigard holds the Bledisloe Cup aloft as Sam Cane and the All Blacks celebrate their win at the MCG in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Scott Barbour / Photosport

Opinion - Ian Foster's post-match press conference at the MCG was 14 minutes long, but really, he didn't need to say an awful lot. The All Blacks' 38-7 demolition of the Wallabies had answered almost all the questions that could be asked before he even walked into the room.

Stand-in skipper Ardie Savea had talked during the week about the need to not let their opposition back into the game, possibly the only major critique of their opening two test wins this season.

The Australians found out the hard way just how much it means to the All Blacks to chase that mythical perfect performance, because while it almost ended up being a record margin of victory with some very well-taken tries, arguably the periods of defence were the most impressive part.

So impressive, in fact, that no one bothered to ask why the game kicked off almost 20 minutes later than scheduled. The delay did admittedly help the stragglers in the also impressive crowd of just under 84,000 find their seats in the gigantic stadium.

It really takes a special amount of effort to win by 31 despite spending a good chunk of the game defending in your own 22. The Wallabies ran in from open play and walked in off penalties plenty of times to open the second half, coming away with nothing except bruised bodies and egos as their lineout drives wilted and backline moves faltered in the face of committed tackling and turnover work.

This was the key to winning, at the time the All Blacks held a 12-point lead that wasn't exactly feeling insurmountable - especially since the memory of last year's Wallaby comeback across town at Marvel Stadium was still very fresh.

That lead had been established by a rapid, violent, and almost vengeful All Black start.

Instead of competing at a Wallabies' lineout five metres out from the try line, set up by a brilliant Aaron Smith kick, Scott Barrett charged through and monstered Tate McDernott in a huge tackle. There is a 30kg weight and eight-inch height difference between the two, so it wasn't much of a surprise that Barrett's shot blasted the ball free for Shannon Frizell to score the easiest try of his career.

While the majority of the first half from then on regressed to a kick-heavy display, even that contained some very positive signs from the All Blacks.

The game of force back clearly started to take its toll on Wallaby first five Carter Gordon, who started to wilt under the pressure. The 22-year-old, hailed by Eddie Jones as the best young 10 in Australia, made a string of errors off the boot that the All Blacks exploited to set up two very well-taken tries at the end of the half.

Scott Barrett.

All Black Scott Barrett in action during the Bledisloe Cup match at the MCG. Photo: Photosport

If there can be one slight critique of the All Blacks it was the concession of penalties and therefore field position, but at times it felt like they were using the opportunity to defend as a way of getting ready to play against better teams.

Three second half tries in eight minutes killed the game off. Caleb Clarke, who had been a somewhat puzzling choice as the utility bench cover given the availability of Damian McKenzie, showed just why Foster had put him there. His fresh legs and freedom to get involved in close resulted in a well-taken try, then his Blues team mates Mark Telea and Rieko Ioane sealed it with ones of their own.

The PA system pumping out Waltzing Matilda couldn't inspire the Wallabies, evidently nor could whatever messages Eddie Jones was sending down to them. They are officially in disarray now: three losses (two of them very heavy) in a row and question marks over Michael Hooper's return for the World Cup.

The only real positive was the crowd, the largest to watch a rugby union game in Australia in a decade and a half.

Jones took full responsibility for the loss, happy to take as many questions as possible while defending his selections and praising the fact that his side at least got into All Black territory for long periods. It was only a matter of time before he was asked about the New Zealand economy, something that he laughed off. But this really isn't funny anymore, with the one shining light at the end of the tunnel for them a seemingly cushy World Cup draw.

Meanwhile, Foster simply had one word to say when asked what he was feeling in relation to the tumultuous last 12 months: "Good." In typical fashion he kept his cards close to his chest, but it's hard not to think a performance like that would have been extremely satisfying.

Every week his side becomes more and more like the finished product. It may have taken a while to get here, but it's practically impossible to fault the way the All Blacks are playing right now.

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