Pick'n Go
ABs still favourites but aura has taken a hit
Sam Bruce
August 10, 2015
Australia 27-19 New Zealand (Australia only)

Kieran Read missed tackles. Aaron Smith unleashed a flying swinging arm and ended up in the sin-bin. Sonny Bill kicked aimlessly and Dan Carter poorly; this was a very un-All Blacks All Blacks performance. Their 27-19 loss to the Wallabies on Saturday was their first against their great trans-Tasman rivals since 2011, and one that cost them a fourth straight Rugby Championship crown.

Speaking at the post-match press conference, skipper Richie McCaw was at a loss to explain his side's struggles at scrum-time - a fate no-one suspected would come against Australia.

"I'm actually not sure; it was a bit frustrating but, ah, I'm not sure what the story was. Yeah, like I'm not sure."

The shock was still raw, as was the cut across his face. His final Test outing in Australia had ended in failure, and that's about as familiar to McCaw as an Australian Ashes victory in England since the turn of the Millennium.

Cheika plays down All Blacks dismantling

The knives have already come out for a few players involved in the loss in Sydney, Sonny Bill Williams most notably; but you'd have to search far and wide to find someone who honestly thinks he is the superior option to Ma'a Nonu anyway.

But there's no need for panic, either. Coach Steve Hansen says the All Blacks haven't become a bad side with one defeat, and he's exactly right.

"We've lost games before but it doesn't mean that all of a sudden we've become a bad side; there's just some things in our game that we need to tidy up and we'll get back to Auckland and start that process."

They could not be headed to a better venue than Eden Park - that un-friendliest of destinations for men wearing gold. The Wallabies were thumped 51-20 in Auckland last year despite the All Blacks having two players sent to the sin-bin - including McCaw inside the opening quarter. The skipper returned to score two second-half tries while fly-half Aaron Cruden turned in a masterful playmaking display.

Carter, too, remains capable of dominating a game in such a fashion. His two short kick-offs, failure to find touch from a penalty and three missed tackles at ANZ Stadium contributed to arguably the poorest display of his remarkable 105-Test career. He'll want redemption. And so will the All Blacks; in fact they'll be desperate for it.

That will test the resolve and the newfound character of this Wallabies side under Michael Cheika. He asked them to 'feel the heat' of the Bledisloe battle and feel the heat they did. The temperature will only increase at Eden Park, and so too must the improvements in the Wallabies' performance.

We're all hurting - McCaw

The lineout needs attention with the selection of both Michael Hooper and David Pocock weakening that set-piece element. Cheika must also re-evaluate his halves pairing; Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley were well and truly outpointed by their replacements Nic White and Matt Toomua.

Whoever ends up taking the field will face a fired-up All Blacks outfit, one that can easily run up a score on the Australians. Saturday's result has only heightened that chance.

But even if that does transpire in Auckland, there's no question the world champions' aura has taken just the slightest hit ahead of the Rugby World Cup. They will still enter the tournament as overwhelming favourites and deservedly so; but a mistake-strewn 80 minutes has proven they're not unconquerable, and given their rivals the smallest dose of confidence and self-belief.

And that, as Cheika keeps telling us, is exactly where the Wallabies are in short supply.

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