Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from New Zealand’s comfortable victory over Australia at Eden Park

James While
Sam Whitelock NZ v Australia RC 2022 - PA.jpg

Following a 40-14 victory for New Zealand over Australia in their Rugby Championship clash, here’s our five takeaways from the match in Auckland.

The Garden

In a one sided Test match where Australia were masters of their own downfall in accuracy and legality, New Zealand put in one of their most convincing performances at Eden Park with a full bonus-point win as they trotted home 47-14 courtesy of tries from Will Jordan, Sam Whitelock, Codie Taylor Samisoni Taukei’aho and a team earned penalty try.

The sheer contrast in efficiency between the two teams was remarkable; the All Blacks missed a paltry seven tackles all evening, but the Wallabies struggled to get past an 80% completion rate with 29 missed attempts demonstrating their lack of accuracy in defence.

The set-piece was no consolation for them either; annihilated at scrum time, beaten in the lineout and smashed at the breakdown is no recipe for winning Test match rugby and, at times, it seemed that Australia’s desperation to deliver big hits and spoils caused them more harm than it did good. In short, they were often wild and inaccurate in defence and against an All Black side approaching their best, there was only one possible outcome.

Australia haven’t won at Eden Park for some 36 years now – it is New Zealand’s fortress, very much their own Garden of Eden and once again, it proved impregnable for the visitors.

One little victory

This might just be one small win in the course of a long year approaching for New Zealand but this will please their management more than any other display this season – for the simple reason they started to look like All Blacks once again.

In the backline the handling was magnificent, with the hallmark counter attacking brilliance of the Kiwis evident for all to see. Rieko Ioane’s pace on turnover, combined with his uncanny knack of sweeping up loose ball saw many powerful incursions into the Aussie half. In the set-piece, NZ were brutal – absolutely dominant at scrum and lineout time, superb at managing both the kick chase and drop zone, whilst at the breakdown, Ardie Savea and Dalton Papali’i had an absolute field day against their Australian counterparts.

With Jordie Barrett offering carry and a couple of magnificent passing moments, New Zealand used his bulk to commit numbers and then to introduce the superb Will Jordan into the 13 channel. He had a magnificent match, one brilliant outside break leaving Jordan Petaia grasping for thin air as he scooted over for an early try.

It was an efficient and ruthless performance by New Zealand – but best of all, they looked like the real All Blacks once again.

Leave that thing alone

Australia are handicapping themselves in every Test they play right now. Yet again, two yellow cards in the first half saw them play 20 minutes with 14 players, taking their tally for the 2022 Rugby Championship to a concerning nine cards in total. Add on 18 conceded penalties, many of them within the red zone and you can see why Australia are struggling for any sort of momentum.

Their woes are all self-inflicted; minor, dull and niggling offences such as lying around rucks or drifting offside combine with sheer ignorance of the laws of rugby as time and time again Wallaby breakdown contesters mistimed challenges on balls within the ruck or dived to ground over an emerging ball, despite the referee audibly advising to leave the ball alone.

With Andy Brace his usual accurate and consistent self, Australia simply must learn to react to referee instruction. Playing against the All Blacks with 15 is hard enough; playing, as Australia have done this season, with an average of 14.5 players per match on the pitch at any one time is downright impossible.

Force 10

The reintroduction of Richie Mo’unga at 10 has been the key to the recent All Black improvement. For all his running skills, the fly-half is at heart a pragmatist. He plays with clarity and knows how to control exit strategies under pressure, whilst always looking for that classical New Zealand counter attack moment.

He offers control and intellect within an amazingly talented running backline, but one than can lose shape without Mo’unga at the helm. Outside him today, having the intuitive relationship of the Barrett brothers at 12 and 15 gave him an escape valve and also the ability to have others offering variety covering defensive duties in exit.

There’s never been any doubt about the attacking threat of the likes of Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan and Caleb Clarke but with Mo’unga around he brings the very best out of his runners, with deft and accurate offloading that allows them to run from deep at pace.

He might not get all the plaudits he deserves in this match, but very quietly, he was the most influential player on the pitch, keeping the All Blacks shape in attack and intelligently using his powerful runners.

Far cry

Australia will walk away from the Rugby Championship with deep frustration, knowing that this performance was a far cry from some of the displays they’ve delivered against both England and South Africa this season.

They’re a side playing with panic and desperation – and often that panic is driving them to make some horrendous errors. The defensive tally of 26 missed tackles wasn’t down to lack of commitment, it was purely because of wild and uncontrolled efforts to defend out of the defensive structure – often with centres and back-rows dog legging the rush to allow some big holes for the likes of Jordan and Ardie Savea to exploit.

It might be the frustration of failing to close out some very tight games, it might be the lack of game-time that their injury-ravaged squad has had together, but frankly, the yellow cards and missed tackles are absolute coach killers and until they sort out their focus, legality and stick to their defensive structure, they will struggle to win tests against the top tier nations.

*Summary of what South Africa have to do: New Zealand’s 40-14 triumph means the Springboks have to secure a bonus-point win against Argentina but they also have to win by at least a 40-point margin for them to lift the Rugby Championship title for the first time since 2019.

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