Chasm not North-South but between All Blacks and the rest, writes Iain Morrison
Journalists like things to be simple. They prefer key moments when matches are won and lost, the turning point, that moment when the pendulum swings one way or another. It’s a nice conceit but no more than that, because sometimes there are no big shifts of momentum. Sometimes it is simply the application of constant, unremitting excellence that crushes any resistance, and so it was in yesterday’s world cup final.
We know these All Blacks are good, even if you don’t buy Heyneke Meyer’s hype about it being the best team ever to play the game. They dominated events when on the front foot in that opening 50 minutes and they hung tight when the Wallabies threatened the mother and father of all comebacks with two tries in quick succession after the break.
Dan Carter came up with the drop goal that took New Zealand’s advantage to more than a converted score and added a long range penalty to boot. He won the Man of the Match award, he becomes the highest paid player on the planet when he joins Racing Metro 92 next week and on yesterday’s evidence the peerless fly-half looks good value for his reported £1.3 million salary.
This New Zealand side has lost just three matches since winning the last World Cup on home soil four years ago [and drawn another two]. Coach Steve Hansen is the proud owner of a 91 percent winning record which is better than Sir “Ted” Henry and puts Manchester United’s 60 per cent winning record under Sir Alex Ferguson into some sort of perspective, even if you are comparing apples with eggs.
If there is a more successful franchise in professional sport it has passed me by and yesterday’s win means that the All Blacks have now won their first World Cup outside of New Zealand, so ridding themselves of one more albatross in the process. Forget that North-South divide, the real chasm in the game is between New Zealand and the rest of the world.
Those who expected a close game were sadly disappointed. Even in that first half, when there was little to choose between the two teams on the scoreboard, all the action was taking place deep inside the Wallaby half with the gold shirts holding on to the Blacks’ coat tails for all they were worth. A statistic flashed up on the television screen early in the second half – 4 per cent of the action to date had taken place in the All Blacks’ 22.
If the match was still wide open at half time it looked dead and buried just a few short minutes into the second 40 when Ma’a Nonu showed the best of himself by scoring a brilliant solo effort from 50 yards out. If the Wallabies grabbed a lifeline when both David Pocock and Tevita Kuridrani scored, with Ben Smith in the sin bin, either side of the hour, they lost the initiative thereafter when Carter did his stuff with the boot and Beauden Barrett grabbed an opportunistic try.
It was brave from Australia but an ultimately fruitless effort as wave upon wave of black shirts came at at them from all angles, at pace and with intent.
When the All Blacks opted to move the ball they looked even more dangerous with twin wingers Nehe Milnder-Skudder and Julian Savea both having their moments, even before the former grabbed the first try just before the break.
With the possible exception of the breakdown, where David Pocock and Michael Hooper manned the barricades as best they could in an effort to turn back the black tide, the Wallabies proved no more effective than King Canute.
There was almost no aspect of play that the Aussies bossed as they failed to comprehend, let alone match, the physicality and intensity of the All Blacks’ assault. If the Wallaby defence started on the front foot it wasn’t long before they were back-pedalling, rocked on to their heels by the speed of the All Blacks’ phase ball as they won all the important collisions.
The Australian fans will claim that their team didn’t enjoy much luck after losing two key players inside the opening 25 minutes, lock Kane Douglas and midfielder Matt Giteau, who was knocked into next year attempting to tackle Sam Whitelock’s shoulder with his head. He was, thankfully, taken off the field immediately and not allowed back on again; a sorry end to a stellar international career.
Nor did the gold shirts enjoy the rub of the referee’s green – one pass by Milner-Skudder to Jerome Kaino was three yards forward with touch judge Wayne Barnes in a perfect position, but this result owed nothing to Lady Luck and in several respects the Aussies were their own worst enemies.
The lineouts have always been a problem but Australia couldn’t win their own throw at the sidelines for any money, not helped by the absence of Douglas.
At least three times in the first half alone they were turned over, the worst of which occurred when the ball sailed over the back and gifted the Kiwis a perfect attacking opportunity.
But any team is only as good as the opposition allows them to be and yesterday’s opposition don’t give anyone anything without making them sweat blood in return. Perhaps Meyer was right after all.