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All Blacks captain Sam Cane was one of the best players at Eden Park when his side beat the Wallabies 27-7.
A big-time Bledisloe response from a team under the gun, a surging game with ball in hand, and a meat pie for good measure … you could say All Blacks skipper Sam Cane was one contented man as the home component of the 2020 test season rapt up.
First and foremost Cane’s All Blacks’ produced the response, not just that their public demanded, but that they expected from themselves at Eden Park on Sunday as they continued their remarkable run on their Auckland stronghold where they still haven’t lost since 1994.
After the disappointment of the 16-16 draw against the Wallabies a week earlier, Sunday’s emphatic 27-7, four tries to one, victory over their trans-Tasman rivals ticked a lot of boxes for even the hardest of markers. David Campese may believe this is a team that has lost its aura, but the All Blacks remain capable of rugby of the highest order.
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It’s why Cane was happy to declare himself quite the satisfied skipper at Eden Park on Sunday evening, with just one further victory required to tuck away the Bledisloe for yet another year. They will get that crack on October 31 in Sydney and then a week later in Brisbane when the Rugby Championship (or what’s left of it) plays out in Australia.
“I’m really proud of the result,” said Cane after another standout display. It would appear the leadership responsibility is bringing out the very best in this hard-nosed and indefatigable openside flanker.
Caleb Clarke starred for the All Blacks on his run-on debut as they beat the Wallabies 27-7 at Eden Park.
“Our coaches and leaders were exceptional this week, right from the time the final whistle happened last week to the end of this game. Between the coaches and leaders we drove a really simple focus. We didn’t try to get everything right – we went in with a clear plan, and I thought a lot of the boys stepped up tonight and responded to that.
“I’m just really happy our last game on New Zealand soil for the year, which seems a little crazy considering it’s only our second game, that we can put a smile on a lot of people’s faces. It was just an awesome occasion out there … afternoon footy in the sun.”
It was indeed as just a tick under 47,000 people filled the big stadium and thrilled to a vastly improved performance from their favourite team. It started, as it so often does, up front, with a much more dialled-in forward effort that in turn allowed the likes of Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett and Anton Lienert-Brown to strut their stuff.
Forwards coach John Plumtree was rapt with what he saw from his big men – none more so than Cane who carried well (61 metres), tackled with tenacity, crossed for the final try (set up by lock Patrick Tuipulotu) and led the response splendidly.
“As a forward pack we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to come up with a big performance. Led by Sam, and Patty [Tuipulpotu], they did a great job. We talked about building some momentum with our carriers, we wanted to put pressure on their set piece and just go back to a simple plan around carrying and cleaning and going to work really. That was pretty evident.
“It was just good to see the boys ripping into that real tough work and enjoying it really.”
Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
Sam Cane and standout rookie Caleb Clarke share a moment at the end of their Bledisloe II victory in Auckland.
Cane was rapt to notch a rare “meat pie” (try), shrugged off his more prominent offensive game (“That was just me doing my role”) and confirmed that just because he wasn’t bleeding from his eye this week, the contest had been no less physical.
“I’m pretty banged up, believe me,” he said. “It was similar to last week, but the difference was we felt as forwards we probably initiated a wee bit more of the contact. Last week we were waiting and they were taking it to us. I’ll be sore tomorrow, no doubt, but it will be sore with a wee smile on our faces.”
As fellow standout loosie Ardie Savea testified, it had been a week of introspection for the All Blacks.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie and captain Michael Hooper react to their 27-7 defeat to the All Blacks at Eden Park.
“We were gutted after last week and took a hard look at ourselves, especially as a forward pack. We want to go out there every week and dominate, and last week we didn’t. We got our set piece right, our mauls right, and throughout the week we just created that edge. In front of a home crowd in Auckland there was no better feeling.”
The All Blacks did take one potential ding. Experienced loosehead prop Joe Moody went off after a half-hour with a head injury and will be assessed further on Monday.
However, there was even a bright side to that, with Auckland prop Alex Hodgman getting through 50 pretty accomplished minutes on debut. “I’m a product of my environment,” reflected Hodgman afterwards. “Without my family, without their support, without these guys (his team-mates), I wouldn’t have been as confident going out there. With their support, it made it so much easier to do my job.”