All Blacks come back down to earth in Brisbane

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012

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OPINION: Maybe it won't hurt the All Blacks to lose their swagger for a short period.

So what if fingers are pointed and tough questions asked after that flimsy, D-grade effort in Brisbane - so they should be.

And the All Blacks must have the humility to accept some criticism.

It took just two hot performances in Argentina and South Africa for some of their adoring flock to pound their pulpits and declare this one of the best All Black teams of all time. They may feel a trifle embarrassed now.

If such lofty statements were kosher there is no way the All Blacks would have plodded their way to their pedestrian 18-all draw against the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

Fair's fair, the Wallabies were all right; their defence was committed and they refused to tremble with awe against a side that won its last 16 tests. In short, they had a dig and secured a moral victory against the New Zealanders.

Not since 2004, when the Wallabies won 23-18 in Sydney, have the All Blacks failed to score a try in a test.

And the Aussies were missing 23 players through injury, among them their marquee signings Will Genia, James Horwill, James O'Connor, David Pocock, Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane.

As former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones noted before the match, only lock Nathan Sharpe would qualify for a starting place in an Anzac team. So how could the All Blacks almost lose this?

Maybe they were over-confident. Although they squeezed out all the appropriate pre-match quotes and had everything to play for, they blew it.

Even with rake Keven Mealamu playing his 100th test they still couldn't rediscover the precision and vigour which earned them their recent comprehensive wins against South Africa and Argentina. Given a sniff of a wild upset the Wallabies almost sank their teeth into the bone.

They tackled like lions and refused to grovel to their more illustrious opponents.

Suddenly the All Blacks weren't so imperious; with the ball slippery from the sweat that poured out of both teams in the steamy Queensland night and the Aussies adding a physical edge to the tackles, it began to unravel.

Aaron Smith was badly off-key and whatever it was that infected the halfback's game it quickly spread to team-mates such as midfielder Ma'a Nonu and fullback Israel Dagg.

Smith's night began poorly when a clearing kick was charged down, and his passing was inaccurate.

Playmaker Dan Carter was quiet by his lofty standards and the forwards ignored referee Craig Joubert's pre-match warnings and continually gave away breakdown penalties. Eventually he had no option but to yellow card Tony Woodcock.

Joubert should have slapped a card on the Wallabies, too, as they repeatedly flopped awkwardly around the breakdown.

Instead, Michael Hooper was binned for a late tackle on Aaron Smith.

Gone is the chance to equal Lithuania's stretch of 18 victories - that disappeared when Carter's late drop-goal attempt sailed wide.

The All Blacks still have another record to try to better. The teams captained by David Kirk and Buck Shelford between 1987 and 1990 went 23 tests with 22 wins and a draw.

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