ANALYSIS: Ian Foster’s All Blacks are flying in 2023. The only question we have to ask, as the World Cup shifts into focus, is just how much of a measuring stick is the creme of southern hemisphere rugby these days?
Credit where it’s due first. The All Blacks made a resounding statement with their 38-7 victory over an outmatched Wallabies outfit in front of 83,944 at the MCG on Saturday night. They are, by some distance, the best team in the south heading into this global tournament, and now have a clean sweep of the Rugby Championship to show for it.
And the two best All Blacks on show, Scott Barrett and Mark Telea, both assuredly sealed their spots in Ian Foster’s starting XV for the World Cup with brilliant individual displays. They dripped class in seismic efforts that look to have far-reaching implications. But more on that later.
This was a third straight emphatic victory for the New Zealanders over their championship rivals, and they have now ticked almost every box they could have been asked to. They have made short work, in short order, of Argentina, South Africa and Australia, and there have been a lot of things to like about all three performances.
On Saturday night, at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground they took their time to get on top of a big and purposeful Wallabies outfit. But get there they did in a performance that was as patient as it was powerful, as potent as it was precise. It means nothing. But maybe the world.
The All Blacks did not dominate for 80 minutes. Far from it. But they soaked up the pressure applied by the Australians, and struck when they had their moments. It was just as impressive, just as ominous as the earlier two performances that have underlined the uncertain, unconvincing outfit of 2022 is no longer.
The only thing we’re left asking is just how significant have these three performances been? How notable is it to run the table on a trio as short of the top mark in world rugby as Argentina, South Africa and Australia? That has to hover over the All Blacks as they head towards the global tournament with a decided spring in their step.
From their side of the equation they have done everything required. Their attack has been transformed, with a fluency and accuracy in the ball-in-hand stuff that is to be admired. They are also muscling up well on defence, executing efficiently at the set piece and seem to have the patience and perseverance to work through inevitable tough periods of matches.
They have also added a killer instinct that was notably lacking in ‘22. On Saturday night at the ‘G’ they soaked up a storming third quarter by the Wallabies, and then left them in their dust with an exhilarating finish. It was a sight to behold.
Clearly, we must take it all with a grain of salt. Argentina and Australia are no Ireland and France. They have a lot to fix as they head towards the World Cup. They look, at this stage, like pretenders, rather than contenders, even if the draw is weighted in their favour.
South Africa, you just know, will be highly competitive at the Cup. But the All Blacks caught them majorly underdone in Auckland, and, again, it would be foolish to read too much into that emphatic victory at Mount Smart Stadium. They, more than anyone, understand the wisdom of keeping your powder dry in World Cup years.
Of course, France and Ireland will be tougher. Maybe England too. But this looks right now to be an All Blacks team building ominously. Last year they were so far off the standard required; now they are right where they need to be heading into the big one.
There were two significant individual performances, too, that have to be acknowledged.
Telea was brilliant on the wing, and is now undoubtedly the complement to the classy Will Jordan – very, very good again – that the All Blacks require. Together they form a potent strikeforce out wide.
The Blues speedster was all class on a night when he ran for a game-high 104 metres on 15 carries, with 8 defenders beaten and 5 clean breaks. As John Kirwan remarked in analysis, he is “fast and with soft feet late” and his primary spot for France is now sealed. Comparisons with Nehe Milner-Skudder in 2015 are appropriate.
The other big mover was Scott Barrett. If someone who has been nothing short of sensational the entire year can be termed a “mover”.
But Barrett’s role has been under the microscope with the return of Sam Whitelock. That should now be put to bed. Barrett is a must-have, and difference-maker, in the starting unit, and the only question is how his veteran team-mates best complement him.
Barrett tore the Wallabies to shreds, from the opening minutes when he put that shuddering hit on Tate McDermott to lay on the opening try, to the very end when he trudged off with 34 metres on 14 carries, 4 defenders beaten, an offload, 11 tackles nailed, not one missed and 3 turnovers won.
Others excelled. Jordan underlined his class, Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane took another big stride in midfield and Richie Mo’unga was on the money at 10. The bench, too, was on point, and a key part of the surging finish.
A victory to enjoy. But maybe not savour too much.
https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/all-blacks/300938826/scott-barrett-mark-telea-make-their-moves-as-all-blacks-dominate-wounded-wallabies.html Scott Barrett, Mark Telea make their moves as All Blacks dominate wounded Wallabies