Wallabies 28 – 29 All Blacks
Yes, the Wallabies were ‘the better team’ for much of the match in Brisbane, if by that you mean they had the majority of possession and territory and they bundled the ABs off balance.
But no, if you look at the scoreboard.
And four tries to three tells its own story: that the ABs excel at taking a sniff of a chance. All four tries were stolen from the edges of probability: Jane taking a miracle ball from Read, Coles stepping inside the Aussie cover defence, Aaron Smith’s lightning penalty, and Fekitoa grabbing a moment at the death.
There is much to be unhappy about with the ABs: Fekitoa’s defensive lapses, the endless dropped balls. But there were also moments of sublime pleasure: Richie McCaw inventing a new aerial technique of grabbing turnovers shows that he’s still the thinkingest flanker in the game. The scrum was mostly good, the line out professional. The relentless patience at the end.
The Aussies played with desperation that at times bordered on planned illegality: their clean outs at the rucks were consistently going past the break down to take out an All Black beyond. It certainly helped them create extra space for Ashley Cooper’s try. If the ref wasn’t going to call them on it, of course they would carry on with it.
The disappointing, perhaps, thing about the ABs was that they didn’t adjust tactically. They kept on with the short second-man play, even when the rushing Aussie defence led to a succession of spilled pills. The “perhaps” there is a suspicion that Shag is keeping a whole lot of extras up his sleeve for next year. That he’s inviting the rest of world rugby to adapt to this year’s pattern before he changes it next year.
That’s my theory, and it helps me sleep better, so we’ll go with that for the moment.
Incredibly, the big story of the night happened after the final whistle, when Ewen McKenzie made his own Great Escape by resigning as Wallabies coach.
I think that was a huge mistake. Along with many other incidents in his career as a coach, I think it exposes a character issue. It connects with two other critical facts: he connived for the top job, and then he didn’t deliver.He may want to blame everything on others, but the buck stops with him.
The real problem for Aussie rugby – and it is made worse rather than better by McKenzie’s resignation – is ‘player power’. It brings to mind Voltaire’s satirical but half-admiring observation that the Royal Navy would randomly execute an admiral or two “pour encourager les autres“.
And am I the only one that is totally over the customary after-match speech by captain Michael Hooper entitled “Disappointed But”? The old saying applies: everything before but is bullshit. Own the disappointment man. Suck it up, hold it close, and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
That memory, an ache of fear, is why the All Blacks win ugly after the final whistle.
Rant over: back to work.