In the end, what was expected eventuated. New Zealand won the second Test against Australia convincingly and retained the Bledisloe Cup for another year.
Australia? They played better than in the first Test, but could only convert three penalties. No tries, just two line-breaks, and a lot of whinging were what they brought to the table.
Quade Cooper wore the No 10 jersey but did not play the role that a five-eighth is supposed to. He stayed well back, shovelled the ball along and had his regular quota of mistakes, kicking the ball to a spot he never intended to once, and failing to collect a high ball in competition with Israel Dagg; the latter action led to an All Black try a few passes later. For the most part, he was a passenger.
Why was he played at all if his prowess as a playmaker was not going to be utilised? That question should be asked of the Australian coach Michael Cheika – but Cheika is too busy whinging and questioning everything about the game apart from the woeful standards of his team, so he may not have time to reply.
Cheika is up in arms about the refereeing. Now everyone and his dog who has been watching rugby knows that Frenchman Romain Poite is a pedantic referee. He wants everything done exactly as he says and and he explains everything he does twice over to make sure that the players have no room to complain.
It makes him the central figure in any match that he officiates, exactly the opposite of what a referee should be. The better referees stamp their authority on the game early on, make sure the players know who is boss, and then melt into the shadows and let the game flow, unless there is a crying need for them to intervene.
Not so Poite. He does not like it when players try to lecture him about this, that and the other and the Australian captain Stephen Moore should have been aware of that trait. Moore has played more than 100 Tests and there is no way he would be unaware of the quirks of every single referee in international rugby.
Yet, a day after the game, there was Cheika whinging that Poite had been rude to Moore, not listening to the captain’s request to have a word with him. Surprise, surprise. Poite has been doing this for years and years. If Cheika was unaware of it, then he should blame himself. New Zealand captain Kieran Read was wiser; whenever Poite told him something, he just nodded in agreement and got on with the game.
Australian scrum-half Will Genia made one line break in the second half but found himself with no support. He looked around wildly for a teammate and found none. The move then broke down. Full-back Israel Folau, who would have much better chances to show his amazing talents as a centre, made the other break after getting an inside pass from Cooper. He almost made it to the line, but the doughty New Zealand defence caught him in time.
New Zealand found the going a little more difficult this week. The Australians were in their faces a lot more – but no-one had told newcomer Adam Coleman where to draw the line or explained to him that he had to back up his aggression with decent play. As a result, the big man flailed around a while and then earned his first yellow card shortly before half-time when he hit full-back Ben Smith with a late tackle, no arms to boot.
The gap between the teams is frightening. New Zealand’s quick passing, offloading in the tackle, supporting teammates and reading the flow of the game is far superior to the lumbering Wallabies. Newcomer Anton Lienert-Brown showed the confidence present in New Zealand ranks with an impressive debut, running the ball fluently and being a great asset. He had come in to replace Ryan Crotty who was injured in the first Test.
As usual, the rugby media, mainstream or otherwise, won’t notice things like these. Why, Planet Rugby is still convinced that Scott Fardy, and not Coleman, received a yellow card! This is a site dedicated to the game, mind you.
Beauden Barrett played a sterling role in the New Zealand win as usual. This man will be the next Dan Carter. He only has to get his place-kicking sorted out a bit, and he will be talked about in more glowing terms in the years to come. The way he reads the game and reacts is simply amazing.
And finally, a word about Sam Cane. He has plugged one of the biggest holes left in the team after the last World Cup, taking over from Richie McCaw. He does a more than adequate job on most occasions, but played out of his skin in this game and was deservedly the man of the match.