Wallabies helpless against All Black might

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 25/08/2014
Aaron Smith
Fairfax NZ
NO HOLDING THEM: All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith escapes during his side's thumping of the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday night.

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The standard has, undoubtedly, been set.

World rugby was once again left gobsmacked as the Wallabies were handed their third worst defeat in the 111-year history of the Bledisloe Cup. Ouch.

After last week's Sydney aberration, the All Blacks restored order in brutal fashion. This was a bloodbath.

Australian coach Ewen McKenzie claimed he saw this response coming yet, a 10 minute second half flourish aside, his men were helpless to stop it. That's a scary thought for fellow contenders, too.

One of the most dominant displays from any All Blacks' tight-five set the tone, but the collective effort had pundits comparing the 51-20 Eden Park massacre to some of the greatest home performances against the fierce neighbourly rivals.

For most, this six try rout finished a close second to the 43-6 masterclass in atrocious conditions at Athletic Park in 1996.

Wherever it sits on that memorable ledger, the All Blacks most certainly confirmed their favouritism to defend the Rugby Championship crown and silenced more than a few doomsday predictions of sudden decline.

No side that breaks the line nine times, makes 17 offloads, forces the Wallabies to miss 19 tackles and eats up 551 metres - 182 more than their opponents - can be accused of surrendering the mantle.

"There's always going to be people that have an opinion and that's what makes our game so great because so many people are passionate about it," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "The only opinions that get scrutinised are ours."

When the All Blacks' pack rumbles forward, when Aaron Smith enjoys the platform to whip the slickest pass in the game and when the lethal backline is given time and space to spark the counter attack, no-one can contain this team. Once on top, they thrive from feeding on opposition mistakes.

"I'm not sure if it sends a message to other teams but it sends a message to us," All Blacks wing Cory Jane, who celebrated his 50th test with a 12th straight year of Bledisloe dominance, said. "If we prepare like that, we get our roles right and we come with the right attitude from minute one, we're going to be hard to beat. We know that now.

"Everyone was focused. Everyone knew their job. Our nine and 10 directed us around the field nicely. The time I was out there it never felt like we were panicking.

"Last week, we were terrible to be honest. It was great to respond from where we were and retain the Bledisloe."

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With one week off to refresh before the contrasting Argentina challenge in Napier, the focus switches to maintaining this level of performance and avoiding a comedown. Lifting from a poor outing has never been an issue - backing up a near-faultless effort has.

"That's always the challenge," Hansen said. "We've set a standard for ourselves and we've got to work hard to repeat that. It's about the leaders in the group, including the management and coaches driving that expectation.

"We've got a lot of motivated older athletes and some really motivated younger athletes. When you've got a group working together and they're cohesive and talented you've got the opportunity to achieve the vision. This team has laid down lots of markers."

Discipline remains the major to work on. The All Blacks have now conceded 11 yellow cards in their last 13 tests. Some of those were poor refereeing decisions, but they had no cause for complaint about Richie McCaw and Ben Franks' respective moments of madness.

"If you're smart enough you learn a lot from every week," Hansen said. "Every game if you dig deep enough and you look beyond the outcome there's always learnings."

On the injury front, Ryan Crotty is the only serious casualty. He will be sidelined for one month after cracking a bone in his jaw, but Ma'a Nonu is on track to slot back in for the Pumas test.

- Fairfax Media

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