An intensive defensive effort by the All Blacks created a 30-14 win over Australia in their Tri-Nations clash yesterday, giving their self-belief a boost in the countdown to the World Cup.
It was a far from perfect performance by the All Blacks, who allowed the Wallabies an advantage with possession.
However, while Australian attacks were swiftly shut down for most of the match, the All Blacks, with Richie McCaw, Piri Weepu and Dan Carter to the fore, were able to find holes around the Australian ruck and out wide.
The three tries to two victory in the clash of the world’s top two sides ensured the All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup, the symbol of trans-Tasman superiority, which they have held since 2003.
It also left them on track for an 11th Tri-Nations title in the 16-year history of the competition and gave an insight into the game they are working on for the World Cup, which starts in New Zealand next month.
“I thought the defense was outstanding,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said, while playing down any psychological edge it could give them going into the World Cup. “I think there’s far too many occasions in the past where [a Tri-Nations win] hasn’t amounted to a result in the rugby World Cup so if we get complacent about this victory it will be curtains I’d say.”
The Wallabies did finish the stronger of the two sides as the pace of the game told on several All Blacks having their first run since the Super Rugby series, but Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said the damage had been done by then.
“Tactically we didn’t help ourselves. We allowed the All Blacks to establish the D [defense] line and really create some linespeed in their defense and stymie our attack. We left a lot of points out there as well. We lacked a bit of patience in the way and where we attacked,” Deans said.
Weepu, getting a start at No. 9 after coming off the bench in recent Tests, stamped his mark with a series of breaks close to the maul and the All Blacks backs feasted off a supply of front-foot ball.
When they were not moving the ball wide, the All Blacks resorted to shallow chip kicks to negate Quade Cooper’s role as a sweeper on defense by drawing him forward into the face of the oncoming packs.
Carter, who had a flawless kicking performance and contributed 15 points, even resorted to a drop goal, a weapon rarely used by the All Blacks.
Any hopes the Wallabies had of back-to-back wins over the All Blacks, after they sneaked home 26-24 in Hong Kong in October last year, vanished early.
The All Blacks laid their marker from the kick off when they robbed the Wallabies of the ball at the first ruck to set up camp in Australian territory from where Carter kicked a regulation penalty.
They followed with their opening try when Weepu found open space down the blind side of a ruck, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Jerome Kaino took the ball up to the line and Ma’a Nonu finished off the move.
Australia regrouped, but could not penetrate the All Blacks defense.
Rocky Elsom was forced out in the corner, Carter pulled off a try-saving tackle on Pat McCabe and Digby Ioane was unable to latch on to a Cooper crosskick over the try line.
Having weathered the 10-minute storm, Weepu again led the All Blacks back on attack with Keven Mealamu capping a series of forward drives with a try in the corner.
Carter, who converted both first half tries, extended the All Blacks lead to 20-0 in the opening minutes of the second half with a drop goal.