The sublime, the bad and ugly from Eden Park

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 27/08/2014
Aaron Cruden
Photosport
CONSTANT THREAT: The variety of first-receiver for the All Blacks in their thumping of the Wallabies enabled Aaron Cruden to attack from the wider, deeper positions from which he can be so dangerous.

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OPINION: What a complete joy it was to watch the All Blacks pass the ball as only they can.

It was like catching up with a long-lost friend. The conversation was a bit stilted at first, but after a few minutes everything flowed just as it had in the good old days.

I detest the word 'offload' nearly as much as I loathe the word 'upskill', because it demeans the splendour and variety of the pass.

The offload pretends to be something different, something new, something better than a pass, when it is just a pass out of contact, something players have been doing for over a hundred years. On Saturday the All Blacks passed like gods.

In some ways this was back to the future.

New Zealand seemed to be finally moving on from the game plan that has dominated the Hansen years and playing in a style that reminded me of the best of their rugby under Graham Henry and Wayne Smith. They were prepared to attack from anywhere, provided the opportunity was there. Chip kicks out of the 22 were commonplace if the Australian second line was deep.

New Zealand used the inside ball and fired Aaron Smith up the side of the breakdown to check the Australian drift.

The sheer variety of first receiver was dazzling. I counted 14 during the match. It kept Australia's rush defence unsure of itself and it enabled Aaron Cruden to attack from the wider, deeper positions from which he can be so dangerous.

New Zealand have forced width in recent months, now they were creating it.

How marvellous to watch passes put in front of the man and not spun or chucked at a thousand miles an hour. In different eras the French, the Welsh-dominated Lions team and the Australians have been beautiful passers of the ball. In this era it is the All Blacks.

It cannot have escaped the coaches that the facility of the All Blacks' passing occurred with Ma'a Nonu absent. Nonu does a number of things superbly well for the All Blacks, but he is the stick in the wheel of their passing. I would love to see Cruden and Dan Carter play a run of matches together on his return.

A few notes of individual praise.

The backs as a unit were excellent, directed by 9 and 10 in their best game together. Julian Savea's chip ahead off the outside of his right boot for Kieran Read's try was magnificent.

The forwards also showed their skills, particularly with the speed with which they passed away from contact. Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock and Charlie Faumuina each enabled a try with perfect passes from the base of the breakdown.

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Oh, and while we are on the forwards a quick nod to Dane Coles' left foot kick ahead.

The All Blacks were good on Saturday, very good, but let's not get carried away, particularly as the arriving and improving Argies should have put South Africa away by ten points at the weekend.

As good as the All Blacks were, there was also the bad and the ugly.

The bad was Romain Poite who has lost the plot as a referee. The Julian Savea try which decided the match as a contest should never have happened.

Moments earlier Israel Folau stormed down the line - sorry to point this out but Richie missed him at the start of the run, just as he missed Michael Hooper for his try, tackles the great man would have buried in his pomp - and his momentum was checked by Cory Jane's high tackle.

Jane jumped into the tackle and swung into Folau's neck. The officials had also missed a swinging arm from Owen Franks earlier in the half. But this was blatant. It was dangerous and it impeded a try-scoring opportunity.

The moment that Sam Carter was stripped of the ball, Poite should have blown up, awarded Australia a penalty and yellow-carded Jane. It was a ten point howler, 16-9 at half-time as opposed to 23-6.

Poite also failed to apply the laws at the breakdown.

This allowed the All Blacks to clean out with reduced numbers because Crockett and co were permitted to come in at the side and off their feet. New Zealand thrived off so much illegal quick ball and it negated one of the strengths of the Australian game this season.

Oh, and while we are at it, there was at least one blatant knock on and forward pass in the buildup to Folau's try.

The Frenchman had a shocker, pressured no doubt by the now sadly typical reffing whinge whenever a Kiwi side fails to win. If Poite had just got some of the basics right, the score would have been more like 31-19.

The ugly was Australia.

I keep hearing that they are the only team who can match New Zealand's skill levels. Don't make me laugh

In perfect conditions they dropped some balls that would have embarrassed school kids. Twenty-four points were plundered from their blunders.

And more ensued from rank stupidity. The scrum disorganisation when down to 14 and foolish attempts to compete in the air on New Zealand's attacking lineouts were unacceptable at this level.

Rob Simmons' crass sin-binning and daft second half penalty contributed to 21 New Zealand points.

But the fateful lineout at which Simmons was yellow-carded would never have happened if Australia had been ready to organise a counter attack against 14 men out of their own 22.

New Zealand would have struck from there. But the Aussies timidly kicked the ball off the park.

They turned over the game to New Zealand and the All Blacks paid them out in style.

- Stuff

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