Kiwi claims should make Wallabies fans laugh ... and cry

Blaming the Wallabies for some recent lacklustre All Blacks performances, and two defeats in 2018, may be drawing a bow longer than Pinocchio's nose, but it does shine a light on why Michael Cheika's outfit are well adrift of rugby's top dogs.

Ireland's victory over New Zealand in Dublin at the weekend shifted the rugby world off its axis, setting up an intriguing run to next year's World Cup in Japan. It also resulted in a variety of takes from within the New Zealand media; everything from team selections, areas for improvement and, in one case, a scapegoat that has nothing to do with the All Blacks themselves: the Wallabies.

Given Australia's performances against the world champions in a winless Bledisloe Cup campaign this season, in which they were beaten by a collective margin of 70 points, it's fair to say the Wallabies were easybeats.

But it says far more about them than it does New Zealand, specifically a failure to adapt to a more northern hemisphere style game plan -- the kind that is needed to win big games of modern-day Test rugby -- just as the Springboks did in Wellington earlier this year.

"There is no doubt the style of game that is played by South Africa is similar to the style played up here (northern hemisphere)," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said ahead of his side's final Test of 2018.

"I still believe Australia are a really good rugby side. There is definitely something missing because they are not quite right and are not performing to the level they can."

What the British & Irish Lions first exposed in 2017, before South Africa, England and Ireland all did this season, is force New Zealand to make the play. Simply, they are prepared to give the All Blacks the ball and back their own defence, absolving themselves of the risk factor that comes with a high rate of ball retention. The Springboks pounced on New Zealand's mistakes in Wellington, and also benefited from a wayward goal-kicking performance from Beauden Barrett.

Furthermore, they have world-class players in the halves and a fullback who can kick into space or fire the ball high downfield, giving their chasing teammates the opportunity to contest.

This is a skill-set that is in short supply in Australian rugby. Wallabies fans may lament the use of the box-kick, but Australia can't expect to be a genuine threat in Japan next year without it. As it stands, Australia's kicking game consists of little more than a punt down the centre of the field, which is more often than not easily fielded by a player from the opposition's back three, or a ball that is booted directly into touch.

Think about England's first 40 minutes at Twickenham last Saturday week. Time and time again they sent the ball high into the air, dropping it just outside the All Blacks' 22 so that even if the likes of Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane had time, they didn't have the easy option of booting it straight out into touch on the full.

It became a game of cat-and-mouse that finished with the All Blacks kicking on 38 occasions to England's 37, but tellingly, the hosts lost their way after halftime as their punting accuracy dropped and New Zealand's forwards began to dominate.

Ireland didn't suffer the same slide in Dublin at the weekend. Even without the world's best box-kicker in Conor Murray, Ireland's use of the boot was far superior. When combined with the unwavering Irish rush defence the All Blacks were limited to just a handful of genuine attacking opportunities, which Hansen later admitted his side failed to grab.

It is also why the All Blacks boss is trying to transition his side from one game plan to another, a challenge he admits they're struggling with. The World Cup-winning mentor knows that the northern threat in Japan next year will be at its highest level yet, and that the likes of Ireland and England have built a game plan which, for now, continues to play away from the All Blacks' strengths.

But it's one that the Australian coaching brains-trust is either yet to truly implement, or simply do not believe the players within the Wallabies squad have the ability to execute. In three Bledisloe encounters this year the Wallabies only once kicked the ball more than the All Blacks [21 against 19], while in Games I and III they put boot to ball on 19 and eight occasions respectively, compared with New Zealand's 25 and 16.

In all three contests the world champions enjoyed opportunities on the counter attack, burning Australia from turnover ball after the Wallabies had enjoyed a prolonged build-up. But it's that long phase-set in possession that leaves Australia so badly exposed.

More recently against Wales in Cardiff, the Wallabies did try a different approach when they kicked on 25 occasions. But it was still seven fewer kicks than their hosts and, as pointed out by Greg Growden: "through Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Will Genia, Israel Folau, Matt Toomua and Dane Haylett-Petty -- kicked 21 times in general play, and only eight of those were effective."

It was little better against Italy on the weekend in Padova, either. As fine a player as Will Genia is, as told by this weekend's Twickenham clash being his 100th Test, the box-kick remains a weakness. The kicking games of his playmaking teammates aren't much better.

So while those in New Zealand laying blame for the All Blacks' two defeats, and near miss against England, at the feet of the Wallabies are drawing a tenuous link, Hansen's attempted shift from one game plan to another shows he recognises some teams have actually just worked his side out.

Sadly for Australian fans, the Wallabies just aren't one of them.