The All Blacks fuelled up on a week of recriminations and Aussie confidence, early misses hurt the Wallabies and is Steve Hansen fair dinkum?
What are we talking about after that Test?
OLD SCRIPT BUT ON STEROIDS
In many ways, it would have been better if the Wallabies had beaten the All Blacks by one point in Perth. With a dodgy refereeing decision in the 79th minute. And better-team-robbed headlines.
That way, perhaps, the last week wouldn’t have unfolded the way it did - and maybe not end the way it did, too.
But the manner of New Zealand’s massive loss in Perth meant the already obsessive analysis of the All Blacks across the ditch was dialled up to fifteen.
End of days are upon us. Wayne Smith was actually the super coach, not Steve Hansen. They’ve panicked by dropping three senior players. The players are on the verge of embarrassing a nation by handing back the Bledisloe.
And so on.
It was the usual reaction but given Perth, the national crisis was now jacked up on a swimmer’s protein powder.
And in Australia, too, the thumping of New Zealand was received with huge enthusiasm; which was a good sign, but again the feel-good nature of the scoreline made many forget the old red card asterix. This is actually the year the Bledisloe is coming home.
Roll out the usual types to tell the Kiwis they’re fading and old and past it (did anyone come and offer up these locker-room cuttings in 1986 by the way?) and suddenly you had a very, very potent storm brewing in New Zealand.
Little wonder the All Blacks played like their lives depended on it. They had hunger and energy and desperation.
The Aussies did not. Did all the positivity and warm glow of victory in Perth affect them? Who knows.
But the pressure definitely fuelled the Kiwis. Yet again.
Making a tough road trip twice as hard.
FIRST QUARTER SHUT DOWN
The strength of the All Blacks - and Kiwi teams in general - is not just how many points they can score.
It’s how many they can deny, particularly in the opening 20 minutes.
Watching the opening quarter unfold at Eden Park, you felt like this wasn’t going to be the average smash-up at the famous Auckland ground.
Early doors Samu Kerevi strolled through some gaps in the Kiwi midfield, and the Wallabies pushed down into the All Blacks red-zone.
The All Blacks didn’t relent defensively, and it was no surprise that Christian Lealiifano had two shots at penalty goal.
That’s Kiwi rugby 101. Give away penalties in the first quarter when under the pump. Shut down the threat, minimise the damage.
Lealiifano missed both, which worked out perfectly for the hosts.
The All Blacks then defended like demons when the Wallabies attacked their line. Kurtley Beale was actually over the line but got repulsed.
Kiwi rugby 102 is to use defensive intensity and a whirling ferocity on their own line; the kind where so many people are flying in the thick of it, a referee misses the odd hand or offside.
So then, having survived Australia’s opening onslaught, the Kiwis turned to 103: pounce on errors to score.
Suddenly it was 17-0 and the game was all for Australia to chase. And that's a tough road at the best of times in Test rugby, let alone against the world number ones.
The only way to beat New Zealand is put points on early and keep the foot on the throat.
The Wallabies missed the throat.
Ask yourself this question. Would New Zealand have considered the game lost at 17-0, with 40 minutes left?
You know the answer.
So it’s often confusing why the Wallabies tend to respond to going down a few scores against New Zealand by throwing out their planned structures and playing high-risk, catch-up football.
Inevitably it leads to blow out scores, as we saw yet again at Eden Park.
Increasing the risk equals more mistakes equals more fractured defence equals more tries.
In the last five years, the All Blacks have scored an average of almost 35 points per game against the Wallabies.
The five years before that it was 28 points. The five years before that was 26.
There will be a plenty of teeth-gnashing about the 36-0 at Eden Park - some justified and some without perspective - but if the Wallabies can take something from the game, it is to stay composed when down by less than 20 points with a half to play. Two tries can have a team back in a game pretty quickly, but panic won’t get the job done.
WORLD CUP WASH-UP
What does a heavy defeat do for the Wallabies’ World Cup plans?
It’ll sting but ultimately won’t dent their confidence about giving the tournament a shake, for two reasons.
One: the manner of the loss, while thorough, doesn’t erase what happened a week earlier. In much drier conditions, the Wallabies managed to get their A-game out of the kitbag and put it on the paddock. And it gave the All Blacks a massive challenge.
So they’ll know they have the potential to play good footy in them.
Secondly, they’ve been here before.
As Michael Cheika noted post-game, in 2015 they lost 41-13 at Eden Park after beating the Kiwis in Sydney.
They responded to that defeat by flogging themselves at a camp at Notre Dame and subsequently winning seven games on the trot and making the World Cup final.
As bad as it sounds, the Wallabies are now reasonably practised at psychologically processing an All Blacks thrashing.
It’s the same reason there won’t be major casualties from the game, as far as the World Cup squad naming on Friday goes. This will be Cheika’s crew, apart from the fitness-conditional additions of David Pocock and Jordan Petaia.
REAL STEVE HANSEN?
Short of another World Cup showdown at the pointy end, Steve Hansen has coached his last game against the Wallabies.
It’s a fair record: 23 Tests, 18 wins, three losses and two draws. Zero Bledisloe surrenders.
Hansen and Michael Cheika have jousted across the years, and both have seemed to rub the other the wrong way.
Hansen’s “Mickey Mouse” spray towards Cheika seemed disrespectful but those who know Hansen say he has a very dry sense of humour, and it was this at play. Many say he is a good bloke.
Hansen has played his fair share of mind games across the years, though.
So it’s hard to know what to believe when Hansen revealed is quite fond of Australians after the Eden Park win.
He wished the Wallabies well at the World Cup post-game in an interview with Foxtel.
“Whilst we have some fierce battles and so forth, we do enjoy them, they’re good men and they’re very similar to ourselves,” Hansen said. “So if we can’t win it we’d like them to.”
Right. Um. Err. Do Aussies feel the same? What a question.
If it was England vs New Zealand, yes. Anyone else? Ask on the day.
It’s worth noting the Hansen good wishes were given to Tim Horan, who was an emergency call-up for Rod Kafer, who’d been black-banned by the Kiwis from doing interviews because he’d said Michael Hooper was targeted for rough play in Perth.
Justin Harrison adjudged Hansen’s good luck message as “genuine as a bamboo watch”.
And so it continues.