Saturday, May 18, 2024

AGNEW’S ANGLE: Awful Aussies now awsome

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No excuses. The one-time awful Aussies were awesome in inflicting upon the All Blacks a 47-26 rugby thrashing in Perth last Saturday.

The sending off of lock Scott Barrett just before half-time would have made no difference to the final result although the margin would have been closer. The Wallabies were that superior, winning the forward battle, retaining possession and running hard onto their passes.

My pre-match warning that the All Blacks were creaking didn’t go down well with some readers, but it was the Aussies who performed like a well oiled machine.

Now with the Bledisloe Cup at risk in Saturday’s return at fortress Eden Park where Australia last beat New Zealand in 1986, the All Blacks will be determined to avenge last week’s humiliation.

Scott Barrett (left) was handed a red card in the first Bledisloe test against the Wallabies on Saturday. Photo

But do they have the ability to support their motivation? It will require a major improvement to do so with Australian confidence deservedly riding high against some former stars who are performing a bit like the old grey mare.

Still it was encouraging to note skipper Kieran Read’s never-say-die performance with good support from Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and replacement prop Atu Moli.

Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga combined neatly but without the authority hoped for on a day Wallaby halfback Nic White was a masterly puppeteer and wings Reece Hodge and Marika Koroibete were a constant menace.

James O’Connor and Kurtly Beale also slotted in at centre and fullback superbly, justifying coach Michael Chieka’s confidence.

Second-five Anton Lienert-Brown and fullback Beauden Barrett were the All Blacks’ best backs but wings Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane are lacking the snap and crackle that has made them champion performers.

They are not alone in that and coach Steve Hansen faces a major challenge knocking his men into shape within seven days.

A narrow win against Argentina and a 16-all draw against new Rugby Championship winners South Africa has not been a convincing World Cup preparation.

They also need to take a leaf out of Australia’s book by keeping the ball in hand instead of kicking it away aimlesssly.

With Australia enjoying 80 per cent first half possession and a commanding penalty count before Scott Barrett’s dismissal, the All Blacks need to dramatically improve their discipline.

Seldom have their forwards suffered humiliation to the extent dished out by Michael Hooper’s much-improved pack in Perth. And this without requiring David Pocock’s special talents at pilfering the ball a la Richie McCaw.

Having earlier convincingly beaten Australia, South Africa finished in style with 46-13 win against Argentina, Handre Pollard scoring 31 points including two tries.

Under coach Rassie Erasmus they have developed their game beyond forward power and kick and chase and are reaping the rewards.

Meanwhile the Black Ferns maintained their supremacy in women’s rugby by giving the Wallaroos and even bigger hiding, 47-10,  than the Wallabies gave the All Blacks.
Women’s rugby has made tremendous progress in recent years with halfback Kendra Cocksedge last year judged the best female or male in the land.

The women’s sevens are a delight to watch and the 15-a-side Black Ferns world champions have also raised the bar. Watch out for powerful wing Ayesha Leti-i’iga who plays like a dynamic young Inga Tuigamala.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer

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