Scrum Five
You just can't blink against New Zealand
Brett McKay
August 19, 2013
Kieran Read and the All Blacks made the most of their opportunities; the Wallabies did not © Getty Images

It's back! Scrum Five looks at the talking points from the All Blacks' impressive 47-29 win in the First Test in Sydney on Saturday night. Have your say via the comments below, or jump onto Twitter and tell the world using the #ScrumFive hashtag.

You just can't blink against New Zealand

Aaron Cruden charges down Christian Leali'ifano's clearance kick, Australia v New Zealand, Rugby Championship, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, August 17, 2013
Christian Leali'ifano and the Wallabies must improve their execution © Getty Images

Mistakes can be incredibly costly against the All Blacks, as the Wallabies found on more than one occasion on Saturday night: you can find a glaring Wallabies error in all six of New Zealand's tries. That knowledge makes for a sobering, yet enlightening, review of the game.

Chronologically, it looks like this:

For the first try of the match, James O'Connor rushes in-field to help Adam Ashley-Cooper in defence, thus opening a saloon passage for Ben Smith to score on the outside;

Christian Leali'ifano's lengthy build-up allows Aaron Cruden to get through and charge down the kick, for the second try;

Just before half-time, O'Connor is again caught well away from his wing as Richie McCaw goes over in the corner;

Australia must treasure possession

Sloppy work and soft contact from James Horwill and Ben Mowen on Aaron Smith allows the All Blacks scrum-half to scoot through before offloading for Conrad Smith, who waltzes through a poor attempted tackle from Jesse Mogg to score behind the posts for the bonus-point try;

With Mogg hooked, and O'Connor at fullback, Adam Ashley-Cooper finds himself isolated and on the wrong man out wide, with Ben Smith crashing over for his double;

Lazy Wallabies ruck work sees the ball spill out of the side of the breakdown contest to no-one's notice bar Smith, who raced 25 metres to complete his hat-trick and seal a memorable night.

Glass-half-full types might conclude from that review that the All Blacks didn't play a lot of rugby, rather content to just wait for the Wallabies to make mistakes. And perhaps there's some truth in this.

On the other side of the coin, though, the Wallabies weren't good enough to force New Zealand into the same mistakes - or to capitalise on them when or if they did eventuate. And that's the difference between the very good sides and the chasing pack. And that's why you can't blink.

Without direction, intent is just ball-shovelling

From the moment the Wallabies commenced their first major period of possession, the intent to move the ball from one side of the field to the other was obvious. There could be no doubt the Wallabies under Ewen McKenzie were going to play with much more ball in hand than in recent seasons, and all the major stats sources, including ESPNscrum, have Matt Toomua throwing anywhere up to four times as many passes as did Aaron Cruden.

But there was a slight problem with this new intent.

New Zealand dominated the breakdown contest pretty much from the kick-off, and the Wallabies lacked the go-forward their game plan required. The Wallabies' back-row - with the exception of Michael Hooper - were a fair way off their opponents, and the Australian forwards overall just could not provide the platform required for the ball-in-hand game to be truly effective; they ended up playing "shuffle ball", as Greg Growden describes it..

New Zealand's Richie McCaw takes a breath, Australia v New Zealand, The Rugby Championship, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, August 17, 2013
Richie McCaw was every bit as good after his sabbatical © Getty Images

So we saw New Zealand defenders happily sliding as required for the best part of an hour, holding their shape the whole time and committing defenders only when they had to - and in no greater numbers than the situation required. Richie McCaw was the major benefactor; while he was a tad off the pace in some areas - as you might expect for a guy playing just his fourth match for the year - his ball-pilfering and breakdown presence was exactly what we've come to know and love or hate, depending on your allegiance.

Toomua heeded some lessons at half-time, and you could see in the second half that he was doing more to engage defenders, which in turn created more opportunities out wide when he did move the ball on; there's no doubt learned the tough lesson in his debut Test that the best defensive teams love nothing more than a catch-and-pass fly-half.

It was also noticeable that the Wallabies looked different in attack during the 19 minutes that Quade Cooper played, and that will almost certainly come into calculations when McKenzie sits down to plan for the return match in Wellington.

Match Analysis by ESPNscrum's Graham Jenkins

  • Man of the Match: A superb showing from Ben Smith was rightly rewarded with the official Man of the Match honour. The winger maintained his rich vein of form with a hat-trick of tries - the first player to achieve the feat against Australia since Doug Howlett in 2005. A real talent, he now has seven tries in his 16 Test appearances.
  • Key Moment: The Wallabies rallied after going behind early and claimed the lead for the first time in the game on the half hour mark only to throw it away. Centre Christian Leali'ifano was charged down just a minute later and All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden pounced for a try and the visitors were not headed again.
  • Hero of the Game: All Blacks captain Richie McCaw returned from his eight-month sabbatical and it was like he had never been away. There was some rust and the odd penalty but his try was due reward for his trademark outstanding work-rate.
  • Villain of the Game: We were promised that the days of the crooked scrum feed were over but the promised crackdown on those scrum-halves daring to feed the ball directly into the second row was not as ferocious as it could have been with referee Craig Joubert appearing to miss a few as he kept a close eye on the rest of the mechanics involved.
  • Talking Point: This game was the first high-profile Test outing for the new 'crouch, bind, set' scrum engagement sequence and as predicted it did not go that smoothly as the packs struggled to come to terms with the new protocols. It is a little early to draw conclusions as it is clearly going to take time for the players, coaches - and officials - to adjust.
  • Play of the Game: The All Blacks may have outscored their hosts by six tries to two but Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia arguably notched the pick of the scores. Flanker Michael Hooper swooped on a poor All Blacks lineout before feeding Genia who underlined his class by running in from 75m - leaving a handful of Kiwis in his wake.

By the numbers

ESPNscrum match stats paint a completely different picture of the game to that witnessed by spectators and played out on the scoreboard. Proof that stats don't always tell the story?

  • Possession: 60% to Australia;
  • Territory: 56% to Australia;
  • Metres run: 512 metres for Australia, 362 metres for New Zealand;
  • Tackle busts: 20-15 to Australia;
  • Offloads: 12-9 to Australia;
  • Rucks won: 94-54 to Australia;
  • Tackles made: 121-78 to New Zealand;
  • Tackles missed: 20-15 to New Zealand, and
  • Penalties conceded: New Zealand 12 (plus one yellow card), Australia 6.

The numbers support the suggestion that Australian did a lot with the ball without actually doing anything with it, and there's no doubt the All Blacks were made to defend a lot.

But the stats picture just doesn't fit the scoreline, does it?

So here's the stat that does fit: Australia conceded 17 turnovers to New Zealand's 8. Ouch!

Scrums are a contest again

We were told the new scrum engagement sequence would see a renewed focus on the requirements for the set-piece to be fed correctly; Craig Joubert pinged both halfbacks twice for feeds that went nowhere near the required middle line, but he could've been a lot tougher than he was.

The short of it is that crooked scrum feeding is something scrum-halves the world over are no longer going to get away with. Will Genia and Aaron Smith could be seen joking after Joubert warned them both that the next infringement would see a full-arm penalty awarded, and no doubt No.9s will take a time to work out what's kosher and what's not.

Fox Sports commentator and Former Wallabies centre Tim Horan mentioned twice during the call that he hoped scrutiny on the feed "doesn't become too pedantic", and likewise a bemused Genia later shook his head as Joubert carried through on his promise to go to the full-arm penalty. But such commentary and bemusement misses both the point and the solution. The International Rugby Board wants Law 20.6 upheld to the letter so as to ensure that scrums are restored as a proper contest. If commentators want to avoid sounding petty, and scrum-halves want to avoid infringement, the solution is simple: feed the ball into the scrum correctly.

Test scrum-halves have to re-learn the meaning of "straight" © Getty Images

The Wallabies' uphill battle

If Australia are to end the Bledisloe Cup drought, they need to do something they haven't done since 1986: beat the All Blacks twice in New Zealand. Coincidentally, the second of those matches back in 1986 also happens to mark the last time the Wallabies won at Eden Park in Auckland. So, in many respects, it's a bit of a shame the two fixtures to come are in Wellington, on Saturday, and in Dunedin, a non-Rugby Championship clash on October 19. If the drought is to be broken, it's a shame the Wallabies can't break the Eden Park hoodoo at the same time. But if the drought is to be broken, there won't be much room in the postscript for mentions of the venues.

Discuss the talking points via the comments box below, or jump onto Twitter and tell Brett McKay (@BMcSport) and the world using the #ScrumFive hashtag.

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