Last night, the All Blacks beat Australia by 42-8. The All Blacks didn’t score as many points in the second half but that was scarcely because the Australians were playing any better.
It was because there was an interesting change of tactics on the All Blacks’ part in the second half. In the first half, the all Blacks played to their strengths: maintain position, run the ball straight at the opposition in midfield and then move the ball wide to the big 90kg outside backs.
It’s effective, it’s brutal and is devastatingly effective particularly when it reaches the third and fourth phase and the defence is beginning to be badly stretched. And particularly when you can vary the play in midfield with a player like Beaudin Barrett, who looks to be every bit as good an attacking player as Dan Carter.
So it would appear that at half time, the All Blacks brains trust decided that the game was pretty well sown up and they didn’t need another 30 points using the same tactics. So they decided to practice and polish the kicking game so instead of running the ball directly at the Australians, they began kicking it.
Late in the second half, New Zealand was within 30m of the Australian goal-line and Aaron Cruden, the New Zealand five eight, had the ball with four men outside him and only two Australians in position to cover them. Conventional wisdom would have been to pass the ball. Given the all Blacks handling skills, a try would have been inevitable.
But he didn’t pass the ball. He kicked it. High in the air from the far corner and full back Israel Dagg.
The kick was perfectly placed. Dagg took the ball at speed and dived over for one of those perfect tries in the corner, airborne as he grounds the ball with millimetres to spare.
It was a virtuoso performance. And when you think about it, it was unbelievably arrogant. It was as if Cruden was saying, “Look, I know we can score from here but watch this. This is the hard way of doing it.” Then he did, perfectly.
As I said, they turned it into a practice match.