Category Archives: New Zealand

True to form, Wallabies whinge after defeat

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.

No yellow card

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.

Picking Quade Cooper for Bledisloe II not the wisest decision

Australia’s rugby coach Michael Cheika does not appear to be one who learns from history. Or maybe he is ignorant of what has happened in the past when Australia included Quade Cooper in its team to play New Zealand.

Else, he may not have picked Cooper to play against New Zealand in tonight’s second Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington, a crucial game as far as Australia is concerned. If they lose or draw, then the Cup stays in New Zealand for another year. The last time Australia won the Cup was in 2002.

Let’s take a look back in time. Cooper was chosen to play in the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Australia. The match was played in New Zealand.

A few months before that game, during the annual internationals, Cooper had made the mistake of trying to take on New Zealand captain Richie McCaw and get in his face. It did not go down well with New Zealanders.

Let me quote from what I wrote at the time, on 17 October 2011: “For some reason, Cooper decided to start a running battle with the New Zealand captain Richie McCaw some months ago. It developed into physical confrontation at times and Cooper, without realising what he was biting off, kept portraying himself as New Zealand public enemy No 1.

“It was a wrong decision. Cooper is an infant in international rugby while McCaw has been around for eight years and is quite easily the best in his position in the world. The New Zealand rugby captain is more important to the 4 million citizens of that country than even their own prime minister; Cooper has no such status or anything even remotely like it in Australia.

“Cooper built up a lot of pressure on himself and clearly could not handle it in front of the hostile New Zealand crowds. Every time he made a mistake on the field during the tournament, the crowds cheered. They booed whenever he got the ball.”

Back to tonight’s game. Has Cheika taken these factors into account when picking Cooper? I doubt he has. Will the pressure be any less on Cooper? No, because New Zealand dominates the world in just one sport and the crowds there are unlikely to forget Cooper’s actions in the past.

Cooper was picked for the 2015 World Cup but played second fiddle to Bernard Foley. He only played against Uruguay, a minor team as far as world rugby is concerned.

He should have been eased into Australia’s side by playing in internationals against other countries. Once he was functioning well — and he does have a tendency to screw up badly at times — then he should have been picked to play against New Zealand, first in Australia where he has the home crowd’s support, and then in New Zealand.

Rugby coaches need to look beyond a player’s ability when picking them. Cheika appears to have erred on this selection.

Old is gold, but not when it involves rugby backs

It’s funny that none of the rugby scribes around wrote a single word about the selection of 34-year-old Matt Giteau, 32-year-old Adam Ashley-Cooper and 28-year-old Will Genia in the Australian side to face New Zealand in the first of the annual internationals.

In the normal course of things, one would assume that the coach of any team that has a chance of winning the World Cup would like to start aiming for that target right at the start of the four-year cycle. Australia made it to the last World Cup final and have won the Cup twice, so they are one of the nations that can reasonably entertain hopes of winning again.

But you can’t do that with a 38-year-old centre which is what Giteau will be in 2019 when the next rugby World Cup rolls around. And you wouldn’t want a 32-year-old scrum-half either. Neither would you want a 36-year-old winger for the 2019 team – and that is what Ashley-Cooper will be in four years’ time.

Is one to believe that Nick Phipps, who performed the job at the base of the scrum adequately in the last World Cup, was not good enough for the Australian coach Michael Cheika? Indeed, Phipps showed his prowess by coming on and playing on the right wing after Australia lost three backs, including Giteau, to injury and also scoring the lone try that the home team got as it suffered a big defeat against New Zealand.

Is one to also believe that among the five teams that do duty in the Super Rugby tournament there is not one individual who can fit in as a centre and that Cheika’s only option was to call in a 34-year-old with injury issues to face up to what is arguably the fittest and strongest rugby team in the world? Or that Australia does not have a single decent wing three-quarter in its five Super Rugby teams?

From the moment that Cheika announced these selections, it was obvious that he was more interested in pleasing his masters at the Australian Rugby Union than building a team for the next World Cup. New Zealand has held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 when Reuben Thorne’s side won it back from Australia, and winning that trophy would have pleased the local big-wigs.

Of course, Cheika is not the only one who is looking to the past when trying to fill the ranks. His South African counterpart Allister Coetzee displayed similar thinking by playing Bryan Habana on the wing against Argentina on the same weekend. Habana is 33 and I am yet to see a 37-year-old winger play in a team in the World Cup. South Africa is also a team that would be in contention in any World Cup, having won the Cup twice, once admittedly under rather dubious circumstances. So why Habana? South Africa has one of the largest pools of players to pick from and someone like Courtnall Skosan would have benefitted from the exposure.

On the other hand, Steve Hansen, the coach of New Zealand, has brought in new players instead of depending on any old hands. He lost much more experience compared to the others because Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, and Keven Mealamu all ended their international careers after the last World Cup.

Hansen has retained two older players in Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino; the latter will be 37 when the next World Cup comes around but is one of the fittest and strongest players in world rugby and is unlikely to be a liability in the team. Remember, he is a forward and does not have to be a strong runner – even though he does a fair bit of scoring in internationals.

Lions’ coach was asleep during final loss to Hurricanes

A good rugby coach knows when to bring a player on for maximum effect. He also knows when a player is not performing to expectations and brings on a substitute.

Given this, Johan Ackermann, the coach of South Africa’s Lions super rugby team should wear a goodly portion of the blame for the team’s loss to the Wellington Hurricanes in the final of the 2016 super rugby tournament.

The Lions’ entire game is built around running the ball wide, with the fulcrum being fly-half Elton Jantjies. In dry conditions, with quick ball coming his way, Jantjies is a formidable player, as he showed in the semi-final against the Otago Highlanders.

But on the day of the final against the Hurricanes, it was cold, wet and windy. In addition, Jantjies had to contend with a bunch of Hurricanes players who were quick off the mark when defending, harassing their Lions counterparts no end.

Under these conditions, Jantjies played poorly. It was his delayed pass to centre Lionel Mapoe that led to the latter making a hurried low kick to try and clear the ball to safety, a kick that landed in the left hand of Hurricanes’ winger Cory Jane who grabbed it gratefully and sauntered over for the Hurricanes’ first try.

In the second half, trailing 3-13, and with 11 minutes to play, Jantjies was again at fault, almost ambling as he tried to touch down a ball that had been kicked into the try-in goal area by Hurricanes’ substitute hooker Ricky Riccitelli.

Jantjies’ opposite number, Beauden Barrett, was much quicker and was travelling at a speed of knots; he got his hands to the ball well before Jantjies, to give the Hurricanes their second try.

Apart from three penalties, two to the Hurricanes and one to the Lions, that was all the scoring on the day.

Jantjies kicked poorly as well, missing another penalty which was well within his range. On other occasions, the team made poor decisions, no doubt influenced by Jantjies’ poor form, that led to them taking penalty kicks and looking for ground advantage rather than trying to get the three points on offer. Given that their lineout functioned poorly on the day, these decisions did not do them much good.

One only has to go back to a tape of the semi-final win that the Lions registered over the Highlanders to see how dominant Jantjies can be when conditions suit him. But if a player cannot be at his best during a final, for whatever reason, then the coach needs to realise this and bring on a substitute.

So what was Ackermann doing? Or did he not trust Jaco van der Walt, the substitute fly-half? If van der Walt was incapable of taking on the role of substitute fly-half, why was he on the bench? If he was not deemed suitable, why did Ackermann not bring him on as full-back and switch Andries Coetzee to fly-half?

When Plan A is not working in any game, a coach should push the team to try Plan B. Ackermann failed miserably — but nobody seemed to notice his failure to react.

It’s not surprising, given the quality of reportage these days.

New Zealand rugby has something going for it

NEXT weekend, teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa will begin battling it out in the knockout phase of the 2016 Super Rugby tournament.

From 12 teams in 1996, the tournament now has 18 teams: six from South Africa, five each from Australia and New Zealand, and one apiece from Argentina and Japan.

New Zealand’s overall population is just a shade over four million. Yet half the teams in the playoffs who play for honours will be from those two islands they call the shaky isles.

It is a remarkable phenomenon.

South Africa, with a population of 54 million, has three teams in the fray while Australia, with a touch over 24 million in its borders, has just one team in the running.

Last year, the final was an all-New Zealand affair, with the Otago Highlanders defeating the Wellington Hurricanes to take the trophy. It has been that way five times.

For the first five years of the tournament, teams from New Zealand topped; only then, did an Australian team win. It took until 2007 for a South African team, the Bulls from Pretoria, to win the tournament.

In the 20 years of Super Rugby, South African teams have taken the trophy home just thrice while Australian teams have won four times. The other 13 times, teams from tiny New Zealand have been triumphant.

Seven of those Kiwi wins have been by the Canterbury Crusaders, and three by the Auckland Blues, with the Waikato Chiefs winning twice and the Highlanders once.

How is it that this tiny nation can dominate in this sport, and not for a year or two, but over decades and decades?

There is a book titled Legacy: 15 lessons in leadership which tells part of the story, detailing the culture of the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team. All the national players are drawn from the super rugby teams; nobody who plays outside the country qualifies.

This book tells of the influence of Maori culture on the team and the players. It is a wonderful example of a nation of white people where the lessons of the first peoples still remain. This is the only case of a team from a white nation in any sport that does a war dance before the game inspired by its first peoples. It is the only white country that sings its national anthem in the language of its first peoples before it sings the same verses in English.

Legacy tells the story of how the New Zealand team learns to lead, how it stays ahead and how it cultivates the spirit of winning. It is a spirit that is followed in the five New Zealand franchises where the coaches are more often than not former national players.

As former All Blacks coach Graham Henry puts it in the book, the expectation is that the team will win every match, and if that expectation wasn’t there, then the team wouldn’t be half as successful.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this little country that produces such magnificent teams year after year and plays the game as it should be played: with flamboyance and flair.

After nine years, Wayne Barnes still cannot tell a forward pass

BRITISH rugby referee Wayne Barnes is well known as the man who helped France defeat the All Blacks in the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup, failing to spot a blatant forward pass that led to a French try.

France won that game 20-18, a match that was remarkable also for the fact that Barnes did not find a single infringement by the French in the second half worthy of a penalty.

In the World Cup final of 2015, Barnes was a linesman and failed to see that a pass from New Zealand winger Nehe Milner-Skudder to flanker Jerome Kaino was miles off the horizontal; New Zealand benefitted by three points as a result of a penalty shortly thereafter. And when Wales played South Africa in the pool games of that same World Cup, Barnes could not spot a conversion that would have given Wales victory.

On Saturday night, in Auckland, Barnes showed that he still does not know how to judge a forward pass.

Eight minutes from the close of the first New Zealand-Wales Test, with the hosts ahead 32-21, standoff Aaron Cruden threw a clever dummy, made his way through a few Welsh players and then passed to substitute scrum-half T.J. Perenara who ran in to score close to the posts.

Cruden’s pass was kosher; the International Rugby Board rules clearly say that if a player’s hands are pointed away from the horizontal, then the pass is fine, even if the ball does go forward. This rule is put in place because the ball may float forwards due to a wind factor.

Barnes asked the television match official to check a replay and see if the pass was forward. When the TMO, Australia’s George Ayoub, advised Barnes that the pass was fine, Barnes called for another viewing of the action on the big screen.

Ayoub than repeated his verdict: you can award the try. But Barnes chose to overrule Ayoub and disallowed the try, claiming that the pass from Cruden to Perenara was forward.

In the scheme of things, it didn’t really matter because the All Blacks would have won anyway – even if they had not scored a last-minute try through substitute hooker Nathan Harris which made the final score 39-21.

It could have, however, caused some anxiety if a try by Welsh number eight Toby Faletau, soon after Barnes’ crazy decision, had been allowed. Faletau was rightly adjudged to be ahead of a kicker when he chased down the ball and scored. The try was, thus, disallowed.

The question that should be raised is: what is Barnes still doing officiating international rugby matches? He should be sacked right away.

T20 takes pride of place in Australian summer

The Australian cricket season has just started flourishing with its Twenty20 tournament getting underway. Crowds are there, so too television audiences.

This year the Big Bash League is the main story, not the Test cricket that has traditionally been the centrepiece.

Two nondescript teams have been booked for the summer, with neither New Zealand nor the West Indies the kind that would challenge Australia.

And the better team of the two was booked for the earlier part of the summer. New Zealand lost two of three Tests and drew one. The West Indies have lost one and nobody gives them a chance in hell of even making a contest of the remaining two Tests.

Only India or England would pull the crowds: England because the traditional rivalry with Australia goes back more than a century and India because the team is a feisty lot who will nowadays give as good as they get. Last time out, they drew two of the four Tests and gave up winning positions in the two they lost.

South Africa will not visit at this time of the year any more; they have their own season to look after and it is the biggest time of the cricketing year for them too. They are slated to play England in a Test series that starts on Boxing Day.

So is the T20 the new medicine for Australian cricket? It depends a lot on who is here to play Test cricket.

These are the kind of questions the International Cricket Conference should be considering. But it appears it has more important things to do than nurturing the game from which it earns its daily bread.

One-sided cricket matches are here to stay. Why would you attend?

World cricket is in a parlous state, not in terms of the money it makes, but in terms of the contests it provides. The games are one-sided to the extent that patrons at the grounds are few and far-between.

There is no better illustration of this than in the ongoing Australian games, where the home team is playing New Zealand and the West Indies in three Tests apiece. The first Test against New Zealand was won convincingly, and the second looks like going the same route. As to the West Indies, they are not expected to last beyond four days in each of the three Tests.

The man who is responsible for this farcical outcome, where Tests are mostly one-sided, died recently. Jagmohan Dalmiya was the one who set in motion these unending Test matches, where cricket goes on round the year, and the same bunch of players have to play, and play and play. Dalmiya’s so-called Test championship was set in motion after he became head of the ICC with the help of Australia and England. His first attempt to become the chief of the ICC in 1996 failed, thwarted by England and Australia with support from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. England and Australia insisted that candidates needed the support of at least two thirds of the ICC’s full members, the nine Test-playing countries. Dalmiya was backed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and also 19 of the 22 associate members. Test-playing countries have two votes against one for associate members.

In the 1996 poll, Dalmiya obtained 25 votes against 13 for Australia’s Malcolm Grey in the first ballot. A third candidate Krish Mackerdhuj from South Africa withdrew. But at the second ballot, five of the Test-playing nations supported Grey and with South Africa abstaining, Dalmiya was shut out. The ICC then decided that incumbent chairman Sir Clyde Walcott would continue for another year until July 1997.

But in 1997, Dalmiya cut a deal with Grey that he would be the next ICC head if Dalmiya was given the reins, and he ascended to the throne. Dalmiya is from the Marwari community which is known for its business acumen. He is also a Bengali.

Thus it was not surprising that he managed to give Bangladesh full Test status soon after he became ICC chief. At that time, Kenya had a much better team. Bangladesh is the eastern part of the Indian state of West Bengal, which became a part of Pakistan at partition in 1947 due to its majority Muslim population, and finally a separate nation in 1971 after a war.

Dalmiya’s other interest was to make money for the ICC. Hence the future Test tours programme where every nation had to play every other nation at least once in a certain cycle. Points were awarded and rankings created.

But the standard of the game, apart from contests between a few countries, dropped like a stone. Players are human beings and get tired, in body, mind and spirit by playing too often. Apart from the Tests there have been countless one-day series and also Twenty20 games. Each country has been interested in organising games that result in more income; India and Pakistan, for example, still capitalise on the age-old enmity between their countries and try to play whenever possible. Due to political tensions, that has not been possible in recent times.

Dalmiya was later embroiled in a TV rights controversy and had to leave his ICC post in 2000. But he has hovered around, being in the Indian cricket board or the Calcutta cricket board and was head of the Indian board when he died.

Nobody has done a thing to try and rectify the abnormal amount of cricket being played. Money is the sole criterion and while countries have to adhere to the ICC-mandated timetable, they organise other games which will bring in money as and when they like. The players could complain, but the money keeps them from doing so. But then they cannot perform like trained monkeys and the quality of the games is very low.

Australians normally turn out in large numbers for cricket in summer. This year, the crowds are poor, very poor. New Zealand played before 1373 spectators on the final day of the first Test and 6608 on day four, when the contest was still open, though the target set favoured Australia. It does not look very good at the second Test either with 13,593 attending on day one and 10,047 on day two.

Let’s be clear about one thing: national cricket bodies do not need crowds to make money. That is already done through TV deals. Not a single spectator needs to come through the gates for the books to be in the black.

But is that all the game is about? It is on life support now, with few, if any, Tests going to the fifth day, and big wins for one team all the time. People are losing interest and that is a dangerous sign.

All Blacks keep their calm – and the World Cup

In the end, just the points that Dan Carter scored off his boot would have sufficed for New Zealand to beat Australia in the final of the Rugby World Cup. The final scoreline was 34-17 and Carter got 19 of those 34 points.

One of the truly great standoffs world rugby has seen, Carter only missed one kick on the night; he converted four penalties, kicked a drop-goal and converted two of the three tries that the All Blacks scored. It was a truly mature performance, with the No 10 kicking astutely, defending with great courage and never panicking when it looked like Australia were getting close to levelling the scores. (He has played better games; for instance, in the second Test against the British and Irish Lions in 2005, he scored more than 30 points as New Zealand won 48-18.)

The period when Australia came close lasted eight minutes; from 21-3, Australia pulled back to 21-17, scoring two tries while All Blacks fullback Ben Smith was in the bin for upending Australian winger Drew Mitchell. But Carter kicked a drop-goal in the 70th minute to push the lead out to a converted try. Two minutes later he followed it up with a penalty, to make the margin 10 points.

At that point, New Zealand knew they were safe. Scoring once in the last eight minutes is not rare. But twice, against a team of the All Blacks’ calibre – well, that is something else again.

Some things became apparent during the final and the tournament overall:

Top pros can let the nerves take over

Ben Smith, normally a man with great presence of mind, had two moments in the final he would like to forget. One was early in the first half when, with his team ahead 3-0, he fumbled a ball just outside his own 22 and knocked on. Australia got a penalty from the resultant scrum and levelled the scores.

Then, early in the second half, Smith had a brain-fade when Drew Mitchell hove dangerously close to the line and lifted the winger’s legs well above the horizontal while making a tackle. The effect of the tackle was mitigated to some extent because the two were not alone; there were a couple of players who made the impact less.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen then decided to move Smith to the wing and brought in Beauden Barrett to man the last line of defence. Smith played much better after he returned from the sin-bin, and created New Zealand’s last try, collecting the ball when Mitchell knocked on close to the All Blacks line and punting it ahead for Barrett to chase and touch down.

Nigel Owens is not the best referee in the world

Ahead of the final, there was a story in the media that New Zealand tended to be victorious against Australia in Tests when Owens was officiating. The Welshman may have had this at the back of his mind for there were several decisions against Australia which were very soft. Australian prop Sekope Kepu made a late tackle on Carter without bothering to use his arms; it was just a shoulder charge. Owens awarded only a penalty. Kepu then got Carter in a high tackle, and with this being a second offence, should have been sent off the field. But Owens again awarded a penalty. Kepu indulged himself with two more high tackles against other players, but neither Owens nor the television match official were paying attention. Owens also missed a high tackle made by Jerome Kaino on David Pocock.

Wayne Barnes does not know how to tell a forward pass

In the 2007 tournament, the Englishman awarded France a try against New Zealand from a blatant forward pass, not even bothering to check with the linesman. New Zealand lost that game by two points. This time, Barnes was mercifully not the referee, he was one of the linesmen. But when he was called upon by Owens to judge whether a pass from All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder to Kaino on the wing was forward — even a blind man would have noticed that it was indeed miles forward — he said that the pass was fine. Moments after Kaino collected the ball and got involved in a ruck, New Zealand were awarded a penalty that Carter put through to increase their lead to 9-6.

Fully fit players must play in big games

Israel Folau was a pale shadow of his normal self at fullback. It was obvious that he was functioning at less than 50 per cent due to an ankle problem. Yet Australia’s replacements are not of the best quality, so he had to play. Unlike New Zealand, the subs in Australia’s squad are not as good as the first 15.

New Zealand’s depth of talent is truly remarkable

Which other country can bring people like Sonny Bill Williams and Barrett off the bench? Williams makes the most incredible offloads and Barrett, though a new addition to the team, has talent to burn. The country has just a tad over four million people but the rugby assembly line does not look like it will dry up anytime soon. That was evident during the last World Cup when Carter was ruled out due to injury; his spot was taken by Aaron Cruden. When Cruden twisted his ankle, on came Colin Slade. And when he went down injured, Stephen Donald was called up – and kicked the winning penalty during the final.

Australia does not even have one decent rugby commentator

Some guy named Gordon Bray — very apt surname, that — has been the commentator for donkey’s years. He is truly awful. The ex-players who join him at the mike are even worse. New Zealand’s Grant Nisbett, in sharp contrast, is a class act.

Australia can surprise the Kiwis in the final

It is doubtful whether many people expected Australia to lose to Argentina in the second semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. There was a period last year when this could have happened, a time when the Wallabies were being described as the Wobblies, but under the new coach, Michael Cheika, things seem to have changed.

But the scoreline — 29-15 — flattered Australia. The last try that blew out the score came off a forward pass from Drew Mitchell to Adam Ashley-Cooper, a pass that went unnoticed by referee Wayne Barnes. But that is not surprising because Barnes does not seem to know how to spot a forward pass. He has form in this regard.

Until that try, Argentina was within touching distance and only needed a converted try to level the scores. That they failed to score a try was due to their lack of experience; the line breaks came with regularity but whoever did so tended to hang on to the ball too long and ended up losing possession. This happened no matter whether there was support or not.

The holes that appeared in Australia’s back-line should be a cause for worry but they appear to have been glossed over by the media in the euphoria over Australia’s win. There appears to be miscommunication between centres Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani and that, in the main, appears to be causing huge gaps to often open up. That is not surprising for the pair only came together for the World Cup; contrast that with New Zealand’s centres Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith who have played 57 Tests together.

The match against Argentina also showed how dependent the team is on David Pocock, a forward who is excellent at forcing turnovers, disturbing opposing forwards, and acting as a disrupting force par excellence. He was bloodied a great deal during the semi-final, but it is not too much to expect that no matter what his condition, he will be there at No 8 next week.

Israel Folau played only to about 30 per cent of his capacity, and there will no doubt be those who advocate that Kurtley Beale replace him for the final. But playing Beale is a big gamble as he tends to do stupid things at time, much in the same way that Quade Cooper does. Folau, even at that reduced level, is a whole lot safer than Beale.

There is no certainty about the final. New Zealand can play well one day and collapse altogether the next. Over the last 20 years, I have seen the best and worst of the All Blacks and it remains to be seen which team turns up for the final. There is plenty of additional motivation to win for a number of players are playing their last games for the team — Richie McCaw, Nonu, Smith, Jerome Kaino and Keven Mealamu will all leave after this game — and their teammates would love to give them a nice leaving gift.

But Australia is a talented outfit and they always raise their game a notch against their traditional enemies. I would not be surprised if Australia squeaked through due to an error or two by an over-confident All Blacks team.