New Zealand 30-14 Australia, Tri-Nations, Auckland, August 6
All Blacks lay down World Cup marker
August 6, 2011
New Zealand's Richie McCaw displays a battle wound during his side's latest Bledisloe Cup victory © Getty Images
The sizeable Bledisloe Cup silverware and the likely destiny of the Tri-Nations title may have been on the line - but this game was all about making a statement ahead of the Rugby World Cup and the hosts did just that.
The All Blacks delivered a timely reminder to anyone still in any doubt as to their No.1 ranking with a clinical display to account for the team that many believe are the biggest threat to their World Cup aspirations.
The worrying thing for those sides hoping to crash New Zealand's party next month is that there is evidently further room for improvement from Graham Henry's charges. Showing seven changes to the side that kicked off their Tri-Nations defence with victory over South Africa, the All Blacks extended Australia's Eden Park woe - where they have not won since 1986 - with a ruthless display built on cast iron defence that shackled the much-vaunted Wallabies' back division.
The energy and class of fly-half Dan Carter and centre Conrad Smith were at the heart of New Zealand's victory but it was their usual forward excellence and the team's all-round defensive efforts that set the tone for the game in the opening period.
The visitors enjoyed vast amounts of territory and possession but repeatedly failed to pick a way through the disciplined hosts' rearguard, with the All Blacks' drift defence and physicality snuffing out the Wallabies' hopes at every turn. In contrast, the All Blacks' superior continuity and brute force saw them take a firm grip on the game with tries from Ma'a Nonu and Keven Mealamu.
Australia entered the game on the back of their own victory over the Springboks but that victory will mean little now after they suffered yet more Bledisloe Cup woe. They struggled to match the All Blacks' intensity - from the haka onwards.
Too many of their players failed to win their personal match-ups. Fly-half Quade Cooper was very quiet, overshadowed by Carter, while scrum-half Will Genia, so often the creative spark, was forced to live off scraps. Instead, it was All Blacks No.9 Piri Weepu who caught the eye with his industry.
But it was Cooper's failure to stamp his authority on the game which was perhaps the most telling. His decision to force a pass early on led to what could have been a costly interception and his alarming decision to throw a wild pass inside his own in-goal area will no doubt have caused coach Robbie Deans some concern. And the confusion that led to wing Digby Ioane and centre Pat McCabe run into each other will have raised a smile everywhere but in the Wallabies camp.
You just cannot imagine something similar happening to the All Blacks - they don't do comedy. The Australians may have played down the comparative lack of big match experience in their ranks but there is no doubt that such mental strength and ability to produce under pressure is priceless.
But there were enough glimpses of his game-breaking skill to counter some of those fears - most notably in the lead up to his side's tries. However, his performance was some way from that of Carter, who continues to set the standard.
How the Wallabies must wish they had a boot as assured as Carter's in their arsenal. The fragility of James O'Connor's kicking game went some way to determining the story of this game and, as a result, his side had nothing to show for their first half endeavours. As exciting and undoubtedly talented as their back division is, they must also be able to win ugly and that means taking points when they are on offer from the kicking tee.
It was not all bad for Australia - just simply not good enough. The pace of Ioane and the vision of Cooper will serve them well in the weeks ahead and had it not been for a fortunate try for Sitiveni Sivivatu after what looked like a knock on from No.8 Kieran Read, then the scoreline would have looked a lot more respectable.
But even so, they were comprehensibly beaten by a superior side who look destined for greater glories on this same ground in the near future.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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