Steve Hansen must crack whip over All Blacks
August 20, 2014
New Zealand's Ben Smith reacts to the result © Getty Images
Sydney 2014 was a real Test match.
Australians haven't played that well often lately against the All Blacks, or with the intensity they showed in Sydney. They wanted victory desperately on Saturday, and we saw blood spilled as they played their best against the All Blacks for a long time. It was tough, physical game, and I want to see it again because that is what a Test match is supposed to be.
Sydney wasn't a case of what the All Blacks didn't deliver. They just found themselves up against an opponent that was as willing as they were. And in their next game in Auckland on Saturday, it is going to come down to who wants it more.
New Zealand will want to reassert their dominance, and Australian will recognise they are in the Last Chance Saloon with regards to the Bledisloe Cup. If they don't win on Saturday, they've got no hope of winning the cup this year. And next year, Rugby World Cup year, they will need to win both Tests. And in 2016, two of the three Tests are in New Zealand. The odds are stacked against them for quite a while if they don't do it this year.
We didn't take our chances - McKenzie%]
The Australians blew an opportunity in Sydney. The match was there for them to take. The All Blacks were on the ropes, down to 14 men for 20 minutes of the game, and Australia had their opportunities. I think the period just before half-time, when they opted to go for the try, probably the first kick might have gone over; as it worked out, the last kick didn't go over and that was three points they missed.
The night was marred by refereeing decisions that I thought were erratic and all over the show. They tended to balance themselves out, but there were some really interesting calls. Maybe it was the heat of the night, and the battle, but there was a lot of emotion going on. Jaco Peyper also was getting a lot from his touch judges, who were having a lot of input, and I think everyone needed to settle down.
There was a moment when Australians had the All Blacks defending their own 22, the arm went out, there was a penalty and there were three infringements straight after; yet Peyper called "advantage over" within 30 seconds. I've never seen that happen before.
It is interesting in the aftermath hearing international coaches say they want to educate referees and all the rest of it. But some of that smacks of hypocrisy.
There was one scrum in particular that got my red flag up, as there was illegal binding from the Australians. They appeared to be employing a system that gave the tight-head more freedom. And the only way that can happen is if the tight-head has both arms free and is pushing upwards using his unseen arm. It is an incredibly strong movement. But it is really dangerous, and for coaches at international level to say they need to educate referees while at the same time seemingly telling their players to break the law and do what is dangerous - binding with tremendous pressure coming through the tight-head with two arms pushing up - is a concern.
The tactic was exposed when the hooker went down on Saturday because you could see the tight-head and hooker weren't attached to each other; it allowed the Australian scrum to perform well, but it was illegal.
This goes on in rugby because referees don't know what to look for. Quite often they are looking at the shape of the scrum, not the binding of the same team. There are a number of teams that are guilty of the practice. I've seen it happen for years, and played against it when it happened to me.
It is dangerous and it is coached; this is not the players coming up with an idea. So coaches have to be careful when saying they can educate the referees, as they are going back to their drawing pads and coming up with ways of bending the laws in their favour. I suggest the coaches worry about coaching and let the referees source expert knowledge elsewhere from people who don't have a vested interest.
Saturday in Sydney was a night for the big men to step up, as the backs were never going to see much of the ball in the conditions. The All Blacks weren't helped with Wyatt Crockett going to the sin-bin, and down to seven forwards.
I think the final whistle was a real let down. It wasn't the greatest spectacle in the world, but the theatrics of the scoreline kept everyone riveted right until the end of the game and then it was like, "oh, is that it?". There was disappointment on both sides: the All Blacks lost the chance to hold the world record for consecutive tier-one Test wins on their own, and Australia know their chances of regaining the Bledisloe Cup now are slim because the All Blacks will be a lot better this weekend at Eden Park, which is their fortress.
Australia's Michael Hooper was nonplussed by the draw © Getty Images
Rob Horne recalls his first Test against the All Blacks%]
Some people will say the Australians can't get much better, but I don't agree. They would have got a boost to their confidence knowing they were that close to a win. Their challenge now is to replicate the effort. Can they perform at the high level that they did again? Because the team that performs at the higher level is going to get the victory on Saturday night.
There have been question asked again about the All Blacks peaking between World Cups, and certainly their performances have slipped since that epic victory over the Springboks in Johannesburg last year. But it is not a peaking issue. Quite simply, Steve Hansen needs to threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, to send a message through the team that it has not been good enough; then you will watch them sit up and take notice and perform. When the All Blacks fail to deliver, and are undisciplined by their own admission, they should feel uncomfortable.
That's the nature of rugby, and the way it has always been. If something like that happens, form is irrelevant. No one wants to lose their Test jersey so I'm sure there will be a lot of hard words said this week reminding the All Blacks that jumpers are on the line in Auckland on Saturday night. Positions in the side haven't been nailed, with loose-head chief among them. Crockett didn't scrum badly the other night, but he walks a fine line in round-the-field play and he has to be squeaky clean if he wants to nail the position.
Steve Hansen doesn't need to panic, but he has to be the taskmaster and crack the whip this week. I'm sure the players know it.
Steve Hansen is likely to get tough with his All Blacks players this week © Getty Images
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