By PHIL GIFFORD, Sunday Star Times
Sunday, 03 August 2008
In Auckland it was a good day for a funeral. Grey, bleak and chilly.
During the week the All Blacks had a funereal look, too, although that's not necessarily a bad thing. During the week former All Blacks commended the value of grumpiness in a build-up.
Eden Park had the potential to be the perfect place for the wake, with the south stand facing the wrecking ball, and the crowd knowing the eulogy for the coaching career of Graham Henry was just one, maybe two, defeats away.
After all, it wasn't just the media vultures who thought the All Blacks were out-coached in Sydney. So, it emerged during the week, did Wayne Smith.
Well, cancel the flowers and hold the hearse.
Compared with the wild-eyed tactics used in Sydney, the All Blacks were, as promised, astute tactically, sensible with their attacking options and clinical in execution.
Richie McCaw had so many hopes heaped on him, you feared the pressure could be too much, even for someone as talented as he is.
He showed his class by not only attacking the breakdowns with his usual ferocity and accuracy but maintaining his composure when the All Blacks were awarded a free kick after 20 minutes.
In Sydney there would probably have been a hot-headed tap and run. Last night McCaw called a scrum, the screws were turned on Australia and Tony Woodcock was able to surge to his first try.
There was cold-eyed efficiency, too, in Woodcock's second try. Ali Williams looked manic during the haka, but as he settled into his game was a tireless presence around the field, and the composure to run perfectly a lineout drill that saw him flick the ball down to a rampaging Woodcock, who powered through a huge gap.
It was a reminder that while there are several rookies in this All Blacks team, there are veterans, too. Williams, in his 53rd test, was giving the ball to a man in Woodcock who was playing his 42nd.
It was the veterans who needed to stand up last night, and to a man they did.
If Dan Carter's skill set was any greater it'd belong in the realms of science fiction, while Mils Muliaina may be our most under-rated player. In what was often a cauldron he never missed a high ball, ran with purpose and, best of all, chose the moment when safety was the best option.
The experience of Woodcock and Greg Somerville also gave the All Blacks an edge in the scrums where they spread uncertainty in the opposing pack.
Best of all for the All Blacks was that the loose forward trio were all playing in the positions they're best suited to, with the folly of left and right flankers discarded.
The change allowed Rodney So'oialo and Jerome Kaino to play in the same positions in which they played the Super 14.
Of the newcomers the most successful was halfback Jimmy Cowan, who revelled in the close quarter scrapping, putting pressure not just on his opposite Luke Burgess, but on the Wallabies ruck and maul defence.
Robbie Deans had warned that Eden Park could be ugly for the Wallabies, with a stung and angry All Blacks side defending their honour.
Whether his players fully absorbed the message was unclear but you can bet that an any alarms rung by him in the future will get nothing but complete attention.