The Wobs: to quote Dennis Green, “they are who we thought they were.”They were beaten up all night long by a grizzled All Blacks side, particularly so in the second half. In a grinding performance of enormous endeavour, New Zealand smashed the Australian pack all night long and cut their dangerous wingers off from a steady supply of ball. Both Digby Ioane and James O’Connor looked threatening with the ball in hand, but New Zealand controlled the game from the first minute to the last, and their opportunities to shine were limited.
The very ordinary centre combination of McCabe and Faainga were again starters due to Kurtley Beale’s late cry-off. Two Dads was moved to fullback, and the Aussie midfield was once again the toothless beast that took the pitch against Ireland. Nobody would deny McCabe’s bravery, but himself and Faainga are from the Phil Danaher school when it comes to invention – magna cum laude graduates, to be brutally honest. It didn’t help that inside them Quade Cooper was having yet another World Cup off-day.
Cooper has been off far more often than he has been on during this world cup. He turned in a decent performance against Italy, an average performance against Ireland, an appalling performance against South Africa and another below par performance today against New Zealand. The Carlos Spencer Mark II tag has duly been attached and will remain in place for four more years. He’s obviously a talented rugby player, but there’s a hell of a lot more to being a top quality international outhalf than talent.
The Mole is genuinely sorry to report that Rocky Elsom is a shadow of the pheonomenon that graced the pitches of Europe in 2008-09. In the Mole’s opinion, this World Cup has more or less proved that there’s no real gap between SH and NH teams … there’s a gap between NZ [even without Dan Carter, surprisingly] and everybody else. Elsom simply isn’t the same player that he was in his annus mirabilis for Leinster. It’s not as though he was made to look good that year because the NH standard was so poor; he has just gone backwards since.
His opposite number Jerome Kaino had another huge game today. He has become a truly great All Black this World Cup, starting all of New Zealand’s matches … and to date he had finished them all. Graham Henry made an odd decision to bring on Victor Vito in injury time, a substitution that breaks up Kaino’s epic run. Pointless.
The other real talking point of the game was the McCaw/Pocock battle. The Mole is an enormous Sur Ruchie fan [and a big fan of Cowpoke as well, it should be said] and was happy to see the All Black centurion turn in a game that was right up there with any he has previously produced. His ‘spiderman’ steal on Anthony Faainga was one for the highlight reel, as was his Ferris-esque reversing of Will Genia in the second half. Cowpoke put in a manful effort, but Craig Joubert was a great deal more accurate on his decisions at the breakdown than Bryce lawrence had been in the Australia vs South Africa QF, and Pocock found himself on the wrong side of the law early on: little quirks of his technique that he had escaped censure with against the Saffas were getting him penalised this time around.
Weepu and Cruden left 14 points on the park between them; it’s fair to say that they should have kicked 8 of them, with two long-range penalties being speculative efforts for guys who aren’t really front-rank international kickers. The Australians lost by 14, and could well have lost by 20+. The All Blacks were the better team all over the park and deserved their margin.