Missed tackles and turnover ball will cruel any rugby team’s chances of victory, as the Wallabies were reminded of in Sunday’s 27-7 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park.
Costly mistakes from the Wallabies were pounced upon by a clinical All Blacks outfit, who played as if they had a point to prove following last weekend’s 16-16 draw in the Bledisloe Cup opener in Wellington.
The Wallabies did deserve to be as close to the All Blacks as they were at half-time — only 10-7 down on the scoreboard — and they had at least two genuine try-scoring chances in the second term that could have kept them in the hunt.
But lapses in the fundamentals of both attack and defence let them down at various stages of the match and they have plenty to work on ahead of facing the All Blacks again later this month on Australian soil.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the second Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland.
Wallabies made to pay for poor defence
Ask any rugby coach what the key to a successful defensive performance is and they will tell you it comes down to attitude.
That being the case, Wallabies defence coach Matt Taylor now has to work as much on the mental approach of his players — and not just defensive structure and tackling technique — after they recorded 40 missed tackles against the All Blacks.
The lacklustre effort was punished by the All Blacks, who showed aggression with their carries in attack throughout the 80 minutes, while their support play often stretched the Wallabies’ defensive line.
Improving a defence that leaked four tries will be a priority for the Wallabies ahead of the upcoming three-nation tournament with the All Blacks and Argentina.
Turnovers prove costly
The intent in attack for the Wallabies was on display in Auckland but poor ball security and decision making meant the execution left much to be desired.
No team can afford to turn over possession to the All Blacks, who again showed how dangerous they are in counterattack.
For example, a Jordan Petaia loose carry coughed up possession when the Wallabies were on the attack, leading to Sam Cane’s 53rd-minute try.
And only minutes earlier, Ardie Savea’s try came courtesy of an aimless Wallabies kick into the All Blacks’ half.
Caleb Clarke had taken the high ball before producing a bulldozing run that gave the home side a deep entry into Wallabies territory, from which point they eventually crossed for their third try of the afternoon.
Greater respect for possession — as well as a need to tighten their defence — was highlighted by Wallabies coach Dave Rennie after full-time.
“Today we turned the ball over a lot and then missed too many tackles,” Rennie said.
“You just can’t gift the All Blacks that much ball. They’ve got too many athletes who can hurt you and that’s what we saw today.”
All Blacks have a star in the making
The comparisons to the late Jonah Lomu are premature, but Clarke announced himself as an All Blacks star of the future with a stunning run-on debut.
The 21-year-old winger was a handful for the Wallabies in attack, perhaps best illustrated by the aforementioned lead-up work he provided for Savea’s try in the second half, which effectively sealed the win for the All Blacks.
The physically imposing Clarke, whose father Eroni played for the All Blacks in the 1990s, made 12 tackle busts and three clean line breaks in a performance that satisfied coach Ian Foster in his classically understated way.
“We’re just trying to give him the ball occasionally and he’s pretty useful,” Foster said after the match.
Beauden Barrett also made his presence felt in his return from injury, showing what the All Blacks missed through his absence in Wellington a week ago.
Has Hanigan arrived as a Test player?
Rennie deserves praise for the faith he showed in Ned Hanigan, whose almost two-year hiatus from the Test arena came to an end with selection in the Wallabies’ starting XV.
Hanigan had not proven himself at the international level in his previous 20 Test appearance but his performance at blindside flanker at Eden Park was impressive.
He was effective on both the attacking and defensive sides of the ball, with his highlights reel featuring a crucial line break that eventually led to the Wallabies’ only try of the afternoon, scored by Marika Koroibete.
The challenge now for Hanigan is to back up that display, as being able to produce a repeat effort will go a long way to ensuring he has a long-term future as a member of Rennie’s Wallabies program.