Caleb Clarke starred for the All Blacks on his run-on debut.
There was no relief for All Blacks coach Ian Foster in the wake of a trademark bounceback performance from his team at Eden Park on Sunday. But the satisfaction meter was certainly back where he prefers it.
Foster’s All Blacks produced the performance he, and their public, had demanded of them when they responded to last week’s disappointing 16-16 draw with the Wallabies in Wellington with an emphatic 27-7 victory over their trans-Tasman rivals in front of nearly 47,000 fans at their Auckland stronghold where they haven’t lost a game in 26 years.
Where last week had been all too meek, all too hesitant and all too messy, this was the All Blacks taking a massive stride back to where they need to be. They were more physical on the carry and around the ruck, and the forwards won much more ball for their talented backs to run on to.
The Wallabies missed 40 out of the 146 tackles they attempted and that in the end was the big difference as the All Blacks kept them scoreless after a 10-7 first half to run away to a four tries to one victory, inspired very much by standout performances from rookie wing Caleb Clarke and returning fullback Beauden Barrett.
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“Relief is not something I feel at all,” said a delighted Foster after a match that sees his side now just one victory from holding on to the Bledisloe for a record 18th consecutive year. “This is what test matches are about. If we don’t perform to the levels we want to, we know a lot of pressure comes on this team.
“In some ways they’re great weeks. There’s nowhere to hide. There’s no way anyone can get complacent. And if we thought we were in the house last week, we got a reminder we weren’t.
This week we got a reminder it wasn’t good enough – from ourselves and everyone around us.
“It’s a pleasing feeling. We’ve put a marker down, that’s the level we need to start at and we’ve just got to climb because it’s a tough series. This is a better Wallabies team than I’ve seen for a while. They want to stay in the fight, so we had to fight for 80 minutes
Phil Walter/Getty Images
Skipper Sam Cane produced another outstanding effort for the All Blacks, including a try, at Eden Park on Sunday.
Foster had called for a statement performance from his side this week, but steered clear of that word in the wake of the much-improved effort in conditions that were near perfect.
“Are we happy we got a response? Yes we are. I said last week it was tough old gig, and I thought the Wallabies played really well … we knew we had to lift by our own standards.
“There had been a lot of intent through the week. We got a clear reminder about test match rugby. I thought we’ve set a marker down of where we need to be in terms of the mental side of the game and the physicality and speed of it. I was really pleased with that.
“Was it a perfect performance? No, it wasn’t. Clearly there will be some things we’ll have to improve moving forward because they’re a good team and we’re going over there now.”
The All Blacks will meet the Wallabies again on October 31 in Sydney and then a week later in Brisbane to both wrap up the Bledisloe series for 2020, and kick off the rejigged Rugby Championship (now, of course, minus the stay-at-home South Africans).
Foster got some top-drawer performances form a number of his men. Left wing Clarke was magnificent on his starting debut with a rampaging display the Aussies simply had no answer to (123 metres on eight carries, with 10 tackle-busts), while Beauden Barrett also showed how much his class had been missed last week with an influential effort from deep which included 101m with ball in hand. There was a better balance to the midfield this week, too, with Anton Lienert-Brown’s presence keenly felt.
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All Blacks Ardie Savea, Beauden Barrett and Shannon Frizell celebrate the loose forward’s try in Bledisloe II on Sunday.
Up front the All Blacks forwards had been much more menacing all round, led by outstanding performances from skipper Sam Cane (who led the pack with 67m on the carry) and fellow loosie Ardie Savea. They also introduced two new test players with barely a hitch, as Peter Umaga-Jensen produced some quality moments in two stints and local boy Alex Hodgman did very, very well in relief of Joe Moody who departed after the half-hour mark with what looked a serious head knock.
Foster tried his best to downplay Clarke’s meteoric display, but admitted “he just wants the ball and wants to run hard, and it’s quite a good thing for us to give him the ball and let him run hard”.
The coach said Barrett’s return had been vital this week in terms of their overall balance. “I thought he showed his class. He’s a great decision-maker and great influence on this team. He played the role we gave him really clearly, and brought a lot of confidence to the players.
“I think there’s more to come from him too. But it’s good to see him back in that first receiver role, back in the backfield, and now we’ve got some good choices.”
The All Blacks now head to Australia with a decided spring in their step, but with the knowledge nothing has been achieved yet.
“We’ve really just started,” surmised Foster. “We’ve had two tests, and probably one performance we’re satisfied with, and we haven’t won the cup yet.”