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Shrewd awakening: How Rennie has the Wallabies matching the All Blacks

It was a classic example of the sort of streetwise play that Wallabies fans feel they’ve been subjected to for years by the All Blacks.

And New Zealand Rugby can’t complain about it with a straight face. Why? Well, their sole representative on the influential World Rugby Law Review Group in the 2015-2019 cycle was a certain bloke called Dave Rennie.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.Credit:Getty

No one understands the law better than Rennie, making him the perfect coach for engineering ways to, shall we say, interpret them in ways advantageous to the team he is coaching.

But, if you are worried at how rugby has become a game in which clever/cynical play is unduly rewarded, don’t be.

The key word in the incident described above is “passive”. The Wallabies were the better team in Wellington because they had a relentless attitude towards the hard stuff.

That opportunity for Hodge only arose because Samu – out on his feet and flat footed – managed to generate the momentum through Goodhue. The game has not lost its essence – it is still about winning that initial physical contest.

Pete Samu put the All Blacks on the back foot in the Bledisloe opener.

Pete Samu put the All Blacks on the back foot in the Bledisloe opener.Credit:Getty

The stats tell it like it was. Wallabies second-rower Matt Philip ran for three times more metres than the entire All Blacks tight five, and that is not a misprint.

The All Blacks engine room managed to progress the ball 12 metres, compared to Philip’s 38. In cricketing terminology, Sam Whitelock, Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi all recorded ducks, while Lukhan Salakaia-Loto charged to 27 metres in the filthy Wellington conditions.

From the Wallabies first three forward carries in the game after just one minute, James Slipper, Salakaia-Loto and Philip all made ground. All Blacks captain Sam Cane appeared to be the only member of their pack who realised they weren’t in Super Rugby any more.

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However, there was one flaw in the Wallabies performance that needs to be acknowledged: their inability to find All Blacks No.10 Richie Mo’unga on defence.

Interestingly, the All Blacks last week changed their defensive shape from their Rugby World Cup semi-final loss against England, when they asked Mo’unga to defend in the midfield, where he was exposed by Eddie Jones’ side (and current Wallabies attack coach Scott Wisemantel).

But on three occasions in the first half from Wallabies lineout ball last Sunday, Mo’unga was restored in the No.10 channel, with Cane as his bodyguard.

Later in the opening spell, closer to the All Blacks line, they pushed him wider with Goodhue and Rieko Ioane moving in one to deal with the heavy traffic.

Yet, the Wallabies failed to test Mo’unga – who is a brave defender but relatively small by Test standards.

Primarily, this was due to the Wallabies’ lineout issues in the first half, but even when they did win the ball they weren’t effective at choosing the right play – or the right ball carrier – to go at Mo’unga.

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That will frustrate Rennie, Wisemantel and lineout kingpin Geoff Parling, who all know that lineout ball is the principal source of tries in the modern game.

Expect the Wallabies to remedy that in Auckland, particularly as the All Blacks have already said this week that Mo’unga has a sore shoulder.

The All Blacks’ pack will respond at Eden Park. Coach Ian Foster won’t need to rant or rave, but he will expect No.4 Patrick Tuipulotu and No.6 Shannon Frizell to put their shoulders on some Wallabies.

But have another look again at the Wallabies 36-0 loss at Eden Park last year. There was no furious All Blacks response from the opening whistle after their thrashing in Perth the previous week.

The Wallabies had the better of the opening 29 minutes and should have been at least 8-0 up before Mo’unga’s opportunistic try from a Wallabies mistake changed the picture.

This All Blacks side is a good Test team, but they are no more than that.

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