By TAINE RANDELL - Sunday News
OPINION: What a huge victory for the All Blacks.
And in Australia, too.
The fact that last night's one-point win over the Wallabies came in Sydney cannot be belittled.
The biggest city in Australia has traditionally been a hard stomping ground for the Men in Black, up until last night, that is.
While this was not a game of flashy, open rugby with an emphasis on each side's running game, it was still an enthralling contest.
These two teams gave it their absolute all and that test was as intense as test rugby gets.
For me, the stars were the All Blacks forwards who were crucial in turning around a halftime deficit.
In particular, Tony Woodcock, who was brilliant up front, Andrew Hore for his tight and loose efforts and Kieran Read were impressive.
The New Zealand lineout was also crucial in this success.
Despite the fact the Wallabies had a 12-3 lead at halftime, you couldn't have said they were at the top of their game. Obviously, the same went for the All Blacks.
Through 40 minutes, I felt the All Blacks had played more rugby and that was evidenced by the territorial stats which had them boasting a whopping 64%.
Unfortunately, and it wasn't helped that they weren't on top of their game and the Aussie defence was so well organised, we didn't see the benefits on the scoreboard.
In saying that, I still felt confident the All Blacks could turn it around in the second half because, while perhaps not reflected on the scoreboard, this game was very finely balanced. In the 40 minutes that ensued, the All Blacks played with aggression and stepped up to the plate with the pressure on.
It was interesting to see Wallabies prop Al Baxter get pulled after just 30 minutes. In the opening half hour, he continued his long-running battle with Woodcock and it was obvious the Wallabies' scrum was under pressure. When you see a scrum collapsing all the time on their own ball that's usually a sign that team's scrum is under massive pressure. That was the same when these sides met in Auckland.
The decision by Robbie Deans to pull Baxter early proved right and the Wallabies' scrum looked a wee bit better almost instantly.
In the build-up to this test, there was discussion about the decision to play Luke McAlister, who was in the wars all night and left the ground just before the 50th minute, at second-five. In his 50 minutes on the paddock, I felt he looked a lot more comfortable certainly more so than he has in recent weeks at No 10.
Looking at the All Blacks play, the number of times the ball continues to go behind or at the shoulder of the player rather than in front was just another sign the team is not operating at its best.
As for Dan Carter's return, while he perhaps should have kicked "that"dropped goal, he still added composure to the backline.