We blogged yesterday about the novelty value of the All Blacks being happy to carry the favourite into the opening match in the Rugby Championship last night. That confidence was completely justified as the All Blacks put Australia to the sword in Sydney. The match was won by 47 points to 29, but the manner of the win was even more impressive.
Gregor Paul reviews the match in the Herald, and begins with a very salient point:
In a gesture of trans-Tasman kindness, no one should ask this morning how the bad Wallabies are and instead focus on just how good the All Blacks are.
Last night provided plenty of evidence to suggest the All Blacks certainly are good. Really good.
They put almost 50 on the board and yet their scrum and lineout were a shambles. One can only fear for the Wallabies as to what will happen if the All Blacks get that right in Wellington.
But maybe the Wallabies aren't actually that bad. Maybe they are on to something except last night wasn't the time to judge them because they encountered an All Black side that was frighteningly good with ball in hand.
The All Blacks were structured yet instinctive and expressive: they were ruthless at times, extraordinarily adept at moving the ball out of contact and into space.
It was almost guerilla-style rugby: the Wallabies had more time on the ball but it didn't matter a stuff - the All Blacks effectively jumped out of trees, conducting smash and grab raids.
It was indeed a convincing performance from New Zealand, even though there was plenty of room for improvement. The side looked rusty at times, and Richie McCaw took 15 minutes or so to adjust to the speed of the match; which was pretty darned fast! But at times, the play of the All Blacks was simply sublime.
Aaron Cruden was under enormous pressure going in to last night's match; not that you'd have known it. From the moment that Cruden put Ben Smith over for his first try early on with an offload right out of the Sonny Bill play-book then converted from the sideline the young first-five was in complete control. It helped that inside him, Aaron Smith was having his best test match yet.
The Two Aarons sparked life into the All Black backline. Conrad Smith defended strongly, and left Jessie Mogg grasping at thin air as he scored the All Blacks' fourth try early in the second half. Ben Smith scored three terrific tries, and Julian Savea went looking for work in the second half, to devastating effect.
McCaw had a storming game after a slow start, but the star of the forwards was Blues loosie Steven Luatua whose run-on debut was outstanding. Not even a head-knock could slow Luatua down, and Liam Messam will not simply waltz back into the side when he recovers from injury.
Ewen McKenzie's Wallaby coaching career did not get off to a dream start, and the Australians will be even more perturbed when they realise that New Zealand has room for improvement on last night's performance. But in deference to Gregor Paul and to all our Australian friends, we won't focus on the deficiences of the Australian team today.
Away wins are a valuable commodity in the Rugby Championship, and away wins with a four-try bonus point are an even rarer commodity. This was the best possible start for the All Blacks, and they will be looking for more of the same when the teams meet again in Wellington (Mother Nature permitting) next Saturday night. But if the men in Black can turn on the razzle-dazzle again at the Cake Tin, it'll be well worth watching.