Going into game two of the Bledisloe Cup at Eden Park, there was reason for Australian hope.
A euphoric win at the shining temple of sports that is Optus stadium. An All Black backline that seemed to be ignoring its best-attacking option in Beauden Barrett by sticking him at full-back instead of his natural fly-half position. Cracks in the shield. The smell of silverware long forgotten.
But alas, a 36-point drubbing it would be.
Despite the score, there are positives that can be taken away, lessons that can be learnt. Especially in comparison to the win in Perth.
“We have to take it on the chin and if this is going to happen to you that you understand one or two key things that you take forward to be successful,” Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said after the result.
One of these lessons surely must be that winning and holding onto possession is a key to beating quality sides like the All Blacks. Secondarily, when trading possession for field position, decisions must be thought through.
For example, kicking the ball straight down the throat of Barrett and inviting him to impact the game, is a no-no. In game one, the Australian halves were clinical and kicking was sparse. They built phases and pressure through their forwards, then released their the backline to flourish. In that game, the dry conditions suited the playmaking style of the pairing of Samu Kerevi and James O’Connor.
In Auckland, the Aussie pack failed to compete at the scrum, where they gave out penalties galore and the breakdown, where the ball was free picking from All Black forwards and backs alike.
The wet conditions didn’t help, but it also didn’t help that the conditions were expected, and the Wallabies refused to change from the free-flowing style that had been so good to them in Perth. This was especially clear in the centres. Where Kerevi and O’Connor had looked world-class the week before, they looked small in the face of the power running of Sonny-Bill Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown. Gone were the cheeky inside passes and solid team defence, the hyphenated duo for New Zealand beating up their Australian counterparts at every turn.
The Bledisloe Cup is gone once more, but that’s normal. All the Wallabies can do now is look forward to the World Cup and plan for rainy days. Michael Cheika for one, is keeping things in perspective.
“Yes, you’re going to be sad and disappointed, but suck it up and get ready for the next one and get moving forward for the next one and build into the World Cup just how we’ve always planned to.”