Canon Rugby in Focus: Saturday night’s All Black loss wasn’t the first such painful reverse. But this one was worryingly different.
First for the good news. This won’t take long.
The All Blacks lost to Australia in 2015 and 2011 and went on to win the rugby World Cup.
In fact, in 2011 they lost to South Africa and then Australia in consecutive weeks, so this run of poor form isn’t new.
But there does seem to be something off about the All Blacks, something that was a worry before the 47-26 defeat to Australia in Perth, the 21 point margin equalling the record defeat in Sydney in 1999.
That was before another World Cup – so if you’re looking for portents of doom…
Before Perth the All Blacks last five test results were a draw with South Africa, a patchy win against Argentina, a big win against perennial Six Nations losers Italy, a loss to Ireland and a fortunate, one point win against England.
An optimist would say that reflects a better state of the international game and that we are in for a cracker of a World Cup that anyone can win.
In part, that’s correct and it’s worth noting that Argentina, South Africa and Australia were semi finalists at the last tournament and are decent teams.
Except the Wallabies haven’t been. Not really. They’ve nicked the odd win or a draw against the All Blacks in the past 15 years but never looked like truly dominating the All Blacks.
They did in Perth (here’s where the good news peters out), and that’s before Scott Barrett had a brain explosion that now leaves his World Cup dreams in jeopardy and the All Blacks locking stocks exposed.
Barrett’s red card for a shoulder to Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper’s head was a textbook decision by French referee Jerome Garces and he will now face a judiciary that could ban him for at least four weeks.
With Brodie Retallick out injured and his return from his dislocated shoulder unknown, Barrett’s brain fart will have left an unwanted stench in the coaches’ box.
Hansen wouldn’t share his views on the red card but he knows he may now go into the World Cup opener against South Africa without two of his three best locks.
That’s daunting, and not his only issue.
The All Blacks were poor in three key areas, fundamentals of the game, really.
They kept losing the ball, either in the tackle or through passes that shouldn’t have been thrown, or should have been held.
The discipline was poor. Barrett’s red card is the obvious example, but the All Blacks conceded twice as many penalties as Australia and three of those were converted into nine points.
“The red card didn’t help us but we didn’t help ourselves either,” Hansen said. “Our discipline was poor in the first half.
“There were numerous occasions when we got offside when we didn’t need to.
“It was dumb footy and we’ve got to be smarter than that.”
They also have to make their tackles.
The All Blacks missed an incredible 37 tackles as Australia dominated possession, territory and, eventually, the scoreboard.
The All Blacks deserve some praise for keeping it close as, for a while in the second half, it looked as if they were in for a humiliating defeat, rather than this embarrassing one.
They will need to be significantly better at Eden Park, a ground they haven’t lost at since 1994 and haven’t lost to Australia at since 1986.
But history doesn’t win matches.
Discipline, defence and ball retention do.
It will be fascinating to see what Hansen does with the team.
I hope he starts Ben Smith at fullback with Rieko Ioane and Sevu Reece on the wings.
Then either Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo’unga can start with the other providing impact off the bench.
Ngani Laumpe also has to start in tandem with Anton Leinert-Brown, but I suspect Sonny Bill Williams will be at second five with Leinert-Brown or Jack Goodhue (if he’s fit) outside him.
In the pack, Patrick Tuipulotu has a huge chance to show he can fill the void left by Barrett and Retallick – but there are suspicions he’s not really up to it.
One good thing from Perth was the form of the loose forwards. They were outstanding with huge work rates, especially on defence.
Ardie Savea made 14 tackles, Sam Cane, who only played 50 minutes made 13 and Kieran Read made 21 (though he also missed six).
Savea also carried the ball 10 times for 76 metres.
Australia will take huge confidence from this win and deservedly so. Their pack was solid and the backs dangerous as they crossed for six tries.
But if there is a glimmer of hope for the All Blacks (in fact, there is much more than that) it’s that they scored four tries themselves with very little ball.
And their flaws are fixable. Easily fixable. Better defence and ball security, fewer daft penalties (and cards). Most of that is attitude and if this whopping loss doesn’t change that then nothing will.
The World Cup looms large over these tests and Kiwis are anxious that the All Blacks are spluttering their way to Japan.
Hansen deserves a bit of faith. His record, after all, is outstanding. But the Bledisloe Cup is now firmly on the line and then there is just one more test, against Tonga, before South Africa in Yokohama.
A win at Eden Park, with an impressive performance, is now desperately needed.