Dominant All Blacks remain unbeaten but feel the heat of the challengers
By TREVINE RODRIGO IN MELBOURNE
The All Blacks were shaken and woken to the reality that the pack is closing on them despite their dominance and unbeaten run in the Rugby Championships.
Yes, they were convincing winners against a determined but lackluster Wallabies in the Bledisloe showdown but their win against a vastly improved Pumas was only on the scoreboard as they battled to contain the foraging South Americans throughout a tense game over the weekend.
Against the Wallabies in game two, the All Blacks rallied to make my prediction of a possible upset or a boilover at Eden Park so far off the mark, it was embarrassing.
I certainly did not anticipate the individual brilliance of Fly half Beauden Barrett whose silky skills wrecked any hopes the Wallabies entertained of springing a surprise leading the way for an All Blacks riot as they sealed the fate of the Bledisloe for a 16th consecutive year. Barratt’s effort saw him blitz the Wallaby defense on four occasions and underlined coach Steve Hansen’s faith in his uncanny ability to produce the unexpected despite his mediocre performance in the domestic tournament preceding. His individual contribution of 30 points makes him the most lethal weapon in the All Blacks arsenal and signals another year as the most outstanding player in world rugby.
The Wallabies were given a rugby lesson at Eden Park and the expectation of a close contest after Sydney evaporated early as the marauding All Blacks stamped their class all around the park looking ominous every time their penetrating outsides were set in motion during the rout.
Testing their bench strength against the Argentinians, Steve Hansen will be satisfied that the replacements especially surprise discard Richie Mo’unga who turned in a superb performance in the pivotal role replacing Barrett giving Hansen a headache that he will be happy to wear with his rotations in the ensuing games.
What would be a worry for Hansen in the coming weeks will be the defensive errors of the half strength All Blacks who let the Argentinians breach their defense on numerous occasions and only scrambling cover defense saved them a few blushes.
The Wallabies picked themselves off the canvas and notched their first win of the championships with a narrow win over the Springboks in a fiercely contested game. Two penalties in the second half helped seal their win after scores were 18-17 at the short break.
The Rugby Championships this year has certainly narrowed the gap between the competing nations as the All Blacks continue to innovate to stay ahead of the pack.