The second Bledisloe Cup game in Dunedin was a throwback to the John Eales days of classic, knife-edge trans-Tasman battles.
A Test match full of skill, spite and lead-changing was decided by some All Black magic and scored by their lead magician Beauden Barrett.
So what did we learn from game two?
5. The Wallabies Just Needed Game Time
The improvement in the Wallabies’ all-round play from their first round pasting in Sydney was astounding. In fact, since the 50-minute mark in the first game, the Wallabies had outscored the All Blacks 57-35. Were they just shaking off rust in the horror first half performance in Sydney or are they just inconsistent? The true test of their progress will come when they meet a resurgent South Africa in Perth on September 9.
4. The All Blacks’ Midfield Combination Still Not Settled
Sonny Bill Williams had a horror first quarter in which he spilt possession four times, and during the period when the Wallabies raced in three tries. Although he improved throughout the game, SBW’s habit of making errors at crucial times such as his red card in the second Lions Test must be troubling Steve Hansen.
Williams seems equally capable of moments of brilliance or disaster and Hansen must be considering a more consistent but also high impact performer like Ngani Laumape. Ryan Crotty was troubled by concussion issues during the game and Hansen must also have doubts about Crotty’s ability or luck to string together a consistent series of performances. Expect Laumape to get some game time against Argentina probably in combination with Anton Lienert-Brown.
3. Beauden Barrett Still The Man For The Moment
What is it about Beauden Barrett that sees him diving over the try line at the most critical moments in games? His two second half tries against the Wallabies, including the match-winner, will join his final try in the World Cup final and the two tries against Wales in 2014 as moments when Barrett entered ‘the zone’, which sees him operate among the gods of sport, such as Roger Federer, Usain Bolt and Lionel Messi.
2. We Don’t Need To See So Many Cheika Coach Reactions
Watching Cheika howl his disgust at every decision which goes against the Wallabies has gone from an entertaining sideshow to cringe-worthy. Cheika obviously makes better TV in the eyes of producers than the imperturbable Hansen, but the constant switching from the game to the ‘Cheika reaction’ means that the creep of reality TV into sport is becoming all too evident.
This writer would rather see reactions from players, team-talking amongst players to add to the sense of battle on the pitch.
1. The Australian Backline Is Coming Together
The Wallaby backline benefited enormously from reinstating Tevita Kuridrani at centre. Will Genia had a storming game at halfback while Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau seem confident and settled in their respective positions.
If the Wallabies can find a fly-half with more playmaking threat and influence than Bernard Foley, and their wings can involve themselves more a la Rieko Ioane, the Wallabies will have some serious strike power in their backs.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena