Rugby Championship

All Blacks sound RWC warning

2014-08-24 12:20
Steve Hansen (Getty Images)

Auckland - All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen could afford himself a little feeling of satisfaction on Sunday after his side retained the Bledisloe Cup with a record victory over Australia that also sent a stark message ahead of next year's World Cup.

Richie McCaw's team scored six tries in a brutally clinical performance to beat the Wallabies 51-20 at Eden Park on Saturday, with the visitors considered lucky to have scored two tries when the hosts had established a 44-6 lead with 20 minutes remaining and were seemingly incapable of being stopped.

Praise for the performance was almost universal in the rugby-mad nation on Sunday, a far cry from a week ago when they laboured to a 12-12 draw with the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship opener in Sydney.

"Too old". "Not evolving". "Lacking in execution", were the thrust of the water-cooler observations after the draw, which critics pounced upon as a signs of a team in decline.

Questions were raised as to whether the ageing spine of the side, McCaw, Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodock, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu could see them through to a successful defence of the World Cup next year.

"You read them but you don't take too much notice," Hansen told reporters in Auckland on Sunday of the doomsday scenarios.

"There are always going to be people that have their opinion. That's what makes our game in New Zealand so great because so many people are passionate about it."

Hansen's team put those discussions to rest on Saturday, though more telling has been the contributions of the new blood introduced after the 2011 World Cup.

Six of the starting side, including scrumhalf Aaron Smith, lock Brodie Retallick and hooker Dane Coles - all of whom made an impact impacts on Saturday - made their debut in 2012 or later, while six of the eight replacements had earned their first caps under Hansen.

Fullback Ben Smith, who earned just one other cap in 2011 after his debut in 2009, has been a permanent fixture in the squad since 2012 and will be just 29 when the All Blacks face Argentina at Wembley on 20 September 2015.

World Cup winners Cruden, Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks are also still only in their mid-20s, yet have accumulated almost 140 caps between them.

"We have a lot of motivated older athletes and some really motivated young athletes and we're all working well together," Hansen added.

"When you get a group working together who are cohesive and talented then you have the opportunity to achieve the vision you have.

"We keep saying the big thing we want to do is get better every time we play. We clearly don't do that, but that is what we want to do.

"That's what is driving us every time, to be better, better, better. If we can do that, we know its going to take a really good side to beat us.

"And we want to win as many games as we possibly can."

Cruden's performance in particular drew plaudits from the All Blacks' coaches, who felt he had finally taken a game by the scruff of the neck and dictated how he wanted it to be played.

It will continue the debate as to whether veteran Carter automatically regains his starting role when he returns from his latest injury, probably for the final two tests of the Championship.

Pragmatism will undoubtedly win out. Carter is rated among the greatest flyhalves to have played the game.

He also has a burning desire to win the World Cup on the field after being forced out of the 2011 event with a groin injury and as his team mates showed on Saturday, a fired up All Black can be a dangerous beast.


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