Phil Gifford: Wallabies haven't closed the gap

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2013
Israel Folau
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MORE PLEASE: The Wallabies need more players with the class of Israel Folau.

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OPINION: The new cut-price, special offer, bargain-basement Wallabies came to Dunedin, and couldn't find a buyer.

Accepting reduced wages was an unusual turn for a group painted as far too Generation Y, keener to tweet than toil, too selfish to sacrifice.

Good on them for doing the right thing in straightened financial times for Aussie rugby, but there's still a tough slog ahead before the gap between them and the current All Black team is closed.

There have been improvements, but they need more players with the grit of Michael Hooper and the aerial skills of Israel Folau.

But one of the worst headaches for Ewen McKenzie is how the All Blacks, when injury strikes, just dip into a pool so much broader in positions and deeper in talent than he had available.

Richie McCaw has to drop out, and Sam Cane, whose abilities some commentators, like myself, had grievously underestimated, turns himself into a human thunderbolt, scything down any Wallaby foolish enough to run into his channel.

Charles Piutau, just 21 years old, starts a test for the first time, and almost immediately is spooking Quade Cooper on a kick chase, and making easy work of tackling the hugely talented Folau.

The killer blow is the regulars in the All Blacks showing no signs of performance fatigue.

You want athleticism? Check out Liam Messam, whose agility, explosiveness and determination set up the first-half try for Aaron Cruden.

Or maybe the remarkable Julian Savea. It's one thing to be as big and strong as a power lifter, but brute strength alone won't win rugby tests. Ask the Springboks about that.

What makes Savea so special is that he times his run onto a pass perfectly, and already, at such an early stage in his career, has icy control that marks the whole of the class of 2013.

It's become increasingly difficult to not sound shrill when praising Kieran Read, but for any New Zealand rugby fan the heart would have to lift when you see the power he generates on the run, or with dynamic, smashing tackles.

Let's hear it, too, for Israel Dagg. Early in the year the touches of genius that had put him into a class of his own at international level seemed to have deserted him.

But the form comeback he started with the Crusaders has kicked on in the All Blacks, so it was entirely fitting his scything run launched Savea's first try.

None of the brilliance would matter if there wasn't such commitment and competence in the forwards.

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The 33rd minute of the game was important in the macho world of the forwards, when the Wallabies scrum, never a construction of steel and concrete, was demolished.

No points go on the scoreboard for embarrassing opponents, but shuffling backwards before landing on your butt sure as hell doesn't help will and confidence.

There's never a shortage of grumpy old men who, over the next week, will point to a few odd blips in Cruden's goalkicking, the penalties that allowed Australia to stay within range, or the occasional Wallabies line breaks.

Let them bleat. This is an exceptional All Black side, that may only need time to prove it is a great one.

- Sunday Star Times

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