In a proverbial game of two halves, the All Blacks burned the Wallabies in the first period in Sydney.
However, they then proceeded to take their foot off the gas and hand off the steering wheel as the men in gold ran in four unanswered tries in the second half.
So what did we learn about the two sides in this free-wheeling game?
1. Ryan Crotty is indispensable
Ryan Crotty has often been joked about as a kind of ‘plugger’ – consistent but unspectacular, as opposed to his flashier comrades like Sonny Bill Williams and Beauden Barrett. However, against the Lions in the first Test, and again yesterday against the Wallabies, Crotty is finally emerging from his own shadow.
He scored a brace of tries, and was the lynchpin in most of the slick All Black moves in their devastating first half. He made five clean breaks and beat six defenders – the highest of any All Black.
Crotty runs intelligent lines, has under-rated speed and power, and his defence and organisational sense is rock solid. It is no coincidence that the Wallabies started finding holes in the All Black midfield when Crotty was subbed after 50 minutes with the score 54-6.
2. Aaron Smith has exclusive access again to the scum-half jersey
After 50 minutes of near faultless rugby, the All Blacks lost their focus and structure – and the departures of Crotty and Aaron Smith to the bench early in the second half were key factors.
Smith had an excellent game, especially in a week when old ghosts could have played on his mind. He was very tactically astute, shelving his box kicks due to the aerial dominance of Israel Folau and instead working the Aussies from side to side, knowing that the superior pace and skill set of the All Blacks would eventually find holes.
His delivery and pace around the field was lightning quick, and as a playmaker he dominated the game.
His inside no-look pop pass to set up Ben Smith early in the second half was a sign that the Aaron Smith, who Warren Gatland rated the finest player in the world, has returned.
3. The Wallabies have got back-row problems
The anonymity of the Wallabies’ new look back-row was a significant reason for the All Blacks’ first half surge. Ned Hanigan, Sean McMahon and Michael Hooper lacked the size and power to compete at the breakdown with the likes of Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane.
The three Wallaby back-rowers were also disappointing on attack with a collective 18 metres gained from 18 runs.
Hooper did not exactly lead from the front with just seven metres gained from 10 carries and including three missed tackles. The inexperienced Hanigan and McMahon got swallowed up by the black tide, and Hanigan only managed three runs with zero metres gained.
Compare this to his equally inexperienced All Black counterpart, Liam Squire, who made ten runs, scored a try, and gained 114 metres.
The Aussies are sorely missing the strength of David Pocock and the mongrel of Scott Fardy.
4. Damian McKenzie and Rieko Ioane are Test quality
Both McKenzie and Ioane had excellent games which will have lifted their confidence to express themselves on the international stage.
Ioane made a game-high 132 metres, including two tries and two more try assists and the way he stood up Israel Folau for his first, shows that he is learning how to use his searing pace with more nuance.
The Sydney Test was a huge game in the career of Damian McKenzie as injuries (Jordie Barrett), rests (Israel Dagg) and imminent player departures (Ben Smith) opened a door for the pint-sized genius.
McKenzie had an impressive game, solid in defence and dangerous when sniping on attack. He didn’t overplay his hand, and benefited from the settling influences of Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty in the backline.
The test for these two will not come in the next game which will be another fast-paced affair in the indoor stadium in Dunedin, but on a slow track with a more suffocating game style.
Ioane became an anonymous figure in the storm in Wellington in the second Test against the Lions, while McKenzie struggled to impose himself against the forward dominated play of the Pumas on his debut.
They both have the talent to do so, and gaining this consistency will make the pair truly world class.
5. After the European exodus, All Black bench has weaknesses
The All Black bench used to be a source of strength and fear for other teams. The All Blacks have lost experienced ‘finishers’ such as Aaron Cruden, Charlie Faumuina and Tawera Kerr Barlow, and there now seems to be a gulf in talent between the starting 15 and those on the bench.
Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara are there, but both seem slightly off their games at present, while veteran Wyatt Crockett and Ofa Tu’ungafasi are far below the quality of props Moody and Franks.
Expect Scott Barrett to replace Luke Romano when he returns from injury, and there is also a strong case for Nehe Milner-Scudder or Israel Dagg to replace Lima Sopoaga to give more versatility and strike power, particularly if McKenzie and Barrett can cover fly-half or full-back.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: aaron smith, ardie savea, beauden barrett, Damian McKenzie, david pocock, kieran read, Liam Squire, lima sopoaga, michael hooper, ned hanigan, Rieko Ioane, Ryan Crotty, sam cane, SBW, Scott Fardy, sean mcmahon, Sonny Bill Williams, TJ Perenara