/ Verdict

Australia 28-49 New Zealand, Tri-Nations, Melbourne, July 31
Awesome All Blacks raise the bar again
Graham Jenkins
July 31, 2010

Shall we cancel next year's Rugby World Cup? A drastic thought, I know, but if the All Blacks continue to sweep all-comers aside with a breath-taking mix of power and pace then there is little point in the rest of the world rocking up in New Zealand in just over a year's time for what would be a futile attempt to prevent the hosts from laying claim to the sport's biggest prize.

The All Blacks' latest clinical demolition of a seemingly quality opponent - on this occasion a hugely-talented and confident Australia - threatens to turn the international calendar and the tournament in New Zealand into a procession. Such is the emphatic nature of their current awe-inspiring form. And the bad news for the rest of the world is that having already set the bar alarmingly high there is evidently more to come from New Zealand.

But the All Blacks' dominance of every aspect of the game was just part of the story. As has been the case in every Tri-Nations outing so far this year, the referee played a pivotal role in proceedings with South African whistleblower Craig Joubert taking centre stage at the Etihad Stadium. His Irish colleagues attracted scorn in recent weeks for their handling of the southern hemisphere giants and Joubert will no doubt field some criticism too for a game that saw three more yellow cards - taking the tournament tally to eight - with two of them equalling a red for Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell.

Confusion still surrounds Mitchell's first-half yellow for a dangerous 'no-arms' tackle that left the winger and his coach Robbie Deans baffled, but there can be no complaint about the second shortly after the interval, which gave the Wallabies a mountain to climb that they were never going to overcome. The warning issued by Joubert to Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom and his All Blacks counterpart Richie McCaw was crystal clear and from that point there were no excuses for the spoiling that had peppered the game up until that point.

So often captains are told to 'have a word' with their teams to ensure they are all on message in such situations and the fault must lie with Elsom for not hammering home the warning. But that is not to excuse Mitchell, who must shoulder some of the blame for his own indiscipline, especially having had time to contemplate during his stint in the sin-bin. But the shortcomings of both players can be explained to a certain extent by the vice-like grip the All Blacks took on this game.

Mitchell's rollercoaster of a game began with the opening try but that only served to sting the All Blacks into action with fly-half Dan Carter and fullback Mils Muliaina silencing the home crowd. And not even the sin-binning of their own prop Owen Franks could knock them out of their stride with McCaw crossing just a minute later. Mitchell's first yellow and a try for Cory Jane compounded the Wallabies' woes.

The decision itself was a brave call from Joubert, who should be applauded for his general handling of the game. Southern hemisphere observers may put his success down to his Super Rugby experience and his familiarity with the players but it is never that simple. There were some questionable decisions but the clarity at the breakdown and consistency helped the game as a spectacle.

"The hope generated in 80 pulsating minutes against the Springboks evaporated before their eyes in Melbourne. They missed suspended playmaker Quade Cooper but not even his super powers could have turned this game around."

With the red card the contest was all but over and nothing more than a damage limitation exercise for the Wallabies. But they came through a stern test of their character with a battling display that was helped by New Zealand's failure to maintain their venomous best, which gives coach Graham Henry some ammunition ahead of their next meeting in Christchurch next weekend.

Tries from Adam Ashley-Cooper and Elsom gave the home crowd something to cheer but those scores failed to hide the cracks in their overall performance. The hope generated in 80 pulsating minutes against the Springboks evaporated before their eyes in Melbourne. They missed suspended playmaker Quade Cooper but not even his super powers could have turned this game around.

Desperate for a victory to catch the public's imagination at a time where the sport's profile is on the wane, their bid to return the Bledisloe to a true contest came up well short. Instead, they must go back to the drawing board driven by concern as to how so many big name players failed to deliver when it was needed most.

In contrast, the All Blacks look imperious. Carter was again the tormentor-in-chief, brushing off an early blip to spark his side's resurgence and in doing so close in on the top of the all-time Test points scorers list. His precision with the boot also laid the foundation for the All Blacks' complete dominance of the re-start. The canny McCaw also came out on top in his much-heralded showdown with Wallabies flanker David Pocock, and winger Joe Rokocoko celebrated becoming the All Blacks most-capped wing by pulling level with Christian Cullen in the try-scoring ranks, just three behind leader Doug Howlett.

The relentless All Blacks - who now have three bonus-point victories to their name - will not rest on their laurels and that fact bodes ill for the Wallabies, who must re-group - and fast. Eight Test defeats on the bounce to their fierce rivals tells its own sorry story - it's the Wallabies' worst Bledisloe Cup losing sequence since New Zealand locked down the trophy with nine wins between 1936-47 - and coach Robbie Deans' return home next weekend will provide little comfort.

Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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