Opinion: The juggernaut rolls on, All Blacks V Wallabies, Bledisloe Cup 2013
Israel Dagg on the charge (photosport)
"Come on, move it," Steve Hansen growled. "Get there first. We're first to everything, come on Ricko, move it," he said, not sparing skipper Richie McCaw from his chastising during training.
First to everything. It sums the All Blacks up. Against Australia in Dunedin there was no Richie; no Dan or Conrad either but in the end and on the scoreboard, it made no difference. The All Blacks were still first, winning 41-33, the juggernaut rolling on - the Wallabies beaten for the third time this year and 11th in 12 tests in Dunedin.
There are a raft of areas where the All Blacks have an edge over Australia. Player depth is an obvious one with wing Charles Piutau strong in his first start while lock Jeremy Thrush was solid in his 40 minutes. Aaron Cruden was again classy at first five (the odd missed goal kick aside). His cross kick to highly impressive wing Julian Savea that set up the marvellous try to flanker Sam Cane was pinpoint and showed the confidence he now has as an All Black. Likewise Cane continues to impress and just as Cruden has done with Dan Carter, he allows a rugby nation to relax when McCaw is unavailable.
Player depth is one thing, but the All Blacks are also fitter, mentally tougher, have forwards that can run like backs and a confidence that allows them to play with freedom. They are particularly good at turning ball over and were at times audacious in what they attempted on attack in Dunedin (though it didn't always work!).
They're not the finished product as Australia revealed at times, with a lapse in concentration at one scrum embarrassing, while Adam Ashely-Cooper scored a soft try on halftime. A silly intercept early in the second half allowed Matt Toomua in too and at times, too often probably, the All Blacks were forced to scramble on defence with try-scoring centre Tevita Kuridrani a real handful.
But as directed by Hansen, the All Blacks were first where it mattered - on the scoreboard. He'd predicted they would be earlier this week when he surprisingly revealed the All Blacks felt they had an edge over their trans-Tasman rivals.
"It's the mental side of playing an opponent that you know you are marginally better than they are and everyone expects you to win, is what we've taken on this week," Hansen said. "We respect Australia, they are one of our big rivals, but we also know at the moment that we have a slight advantage over them."
So it proved. Stand-in skipper Kieran Read maintaining a clean sheet with his seventh win as skipper and the All Blacks 30th in succession on home soil.