20 Aug 2017

All Blacks ease off the perfection pedal with half an hour to go

7:06 am on 20 August 2017

One game above any other transcends opinion about All Black rugby.

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith tries to evade the tackle of Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore.

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith tries to evade the tackle of Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore. Photo: Photosport

The single greatest ever performance in a test match happened in 1996, when the All Blacks demolished the Wallabies at Athletic Park in Wellington. They were up 25-6 at half-time into a strong wind and under constant, often torrential, rain. The final score was 43-6 in a game that featured barely any blemishes.

I was at that game. I sat there, freezing to the point of hypothermia watching the brilliance of the All Blacks. It was too cold and wet to buy even some hot chips without watching them disintegrate into a sloppy mess by the time you got back to your seat.

I was at the game last night too, in the far more luxurious surroundings of the media box on halfway of the cavernous Olympic Park in Sydney. I had a comfy chair instead of a plank of wood, and a decent feed of pizza and lasagne instead of nothing.

But what I saw in the first 50 minutes of the test last night was about as close as I've come since to what I'd seen 21 years ago.

Every single thing the All Blacks did seemed to work perfectly, even though the Wallabies actually started pretty well. From the moment Damian McKenzie hit the line to set up the impetus for Liam Squire's first try, it was clear this was going to be one of those nights for the All Blacks.

Squire, playing on the blindside in his most important game in the black jersey so far, showed incredible pace to gas down the sideline. The All Black backs must have been inspired by the big man, and proceeded to dance their way around the Wallabies with consummate ease.

Rieko Ioane followed that up with a run down the same wing soon after, then Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty started mesmerising the Wallaby midfield. Both crossed for tries, with SBW's effort reminiscent of his NRL days on the same field.

But the real story of the dominant first 50 minutes, even more than the dominant forward effort and flawless decisions in the backs, was Aaron Smith, who had an epic match and who constituted 50 percent of the All Black sex scandals in the week leading up. Whatever anyone's thoughts on his morality and legal nous, the guy can still play footy very well when he wants to.

His crowning moment in the game was a no-look pass to Ben Smith, who strolled in under the sticks for the All Blacks' last try. After that the score was an incredible 54-6.

He was subbed soon after, and seemingly so too was the All Blacks' willingness to play any defence. After being little more than a pack of well-greased turnstiles until that point, the Wallabies suddenly got their hands on the ball and racked up an actually staggering number of points.

In fact, they were only one point away from their highest ever score against the All Blacks, which would've been ironic given that the All Blacks had just recorded their highest score against them.

It was that wilt that meant that last night's entire game won't ever be held up in the same regard as that rainy day back in 1996. Conceding one try is bad enough for ruthless All Black fans, let alone the unanswered four that the Wallabies ran in.

But if you cut the replay down to just the first 50 minutes, that's about as close to perfection as you'll ever see.

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