All Blacks eye significant improvements after first up Bledisloe Cup win

Publish Date
Monday, 9 August 2021, 9:04AM
Photosport

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One hand on the Bledisloe Cup. Mixed emotions for the All Blacks.

A loose start; strong middle period that ultimately blew the green Wallabies away bookended by a poor finish where his men conceded three late tries left All Blacks coach Ian Foster with plenty to ponder.

"At 33-8 we should have done better but at the end of the day it's a Bledisloe Cup series; we've put a stake in the ground, we're 1-0 up and we're looking forward to next week," Foster said after the All Blacks banked a 33-25 victory to notch a 21st straight win over the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday night.

On the whole, Foster was relatively pleased. He watched his men gradually improve after a scrappy start in which they tried to move the ball too wide too early without first earning the right.

After the Wallabies claimed the opening try, All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock landed the telling blow just before halftime by opting to kick to the corner rather than take another easy three points.

Sevu Reece's strike gave the All Blacks a 16-8 halftime lead, and they emerged from the break into the wind with a much more direct game that brought immediate rewards in the form of three quick tries to Richie Mo'unga, Damian McKenzie and David Havili.

The All Blacks were guilty of taking their foot off the throat, partly through their ill-discipline which had them on the wrong side of an 18-9 penalty count. They were also helped by 21-year-old Wallabies first five-eighth Noah Lolesio having a horror night off the tee in challenging conditions - his two-from-seven costing the Wallabies 12 crucial points.

Asked if that was the difference in the result, Foster said: "It didn't feel like that to me. There were a couple of shots they would have liked to get but it's hard to say. You can't always blame a goal kicker when you win or lose. The scoreline after 65 minutes probably showed the answer would have been no.

"They're a good young team playing with plenty of passion and they'll take a lot of confidence from the way they finished that game and we'll take a lot of confidence from the result. Both camps will go away and figure things out. It's a great learning curve for us."

Reflecting on a patchy performance, Foster conceded significant improvements were needed particularly with the lopsided penalty count which he made no excuses for.

"There was enough there that was controllable by us. Nothing to attribute to new laws. If you're offside, you're offside. That's plain and simple and we've got to get better at that.

"It keeps life pretty interesting for a coach. There's clearly plenty to work on in those spells but it's a first test and the Bled was always going to be massive. They came over here very well prepared and threw everything at us. We were doing really well but it's disappointing we take a lot of pride in how we finish. There's some things we'll take away to work on."

On a special occasion for Aaron Smith, one he needed time to settle into, Foster paid tribute to the first halfback and Māori to crack a century for the All Blacks.

"He's the 10th guy to play 100 tests for the All Blacks. He's been an amazing contributor to our team on and off the park and it's great we were able to celebrate with a victory on Eden Park."

Smith, the former Feilding hairdresser who emerged through Manawatu to make a home at the Highlanders, savoured the victory with equal parts relief and satisfaction.

"It was a dream and goal of mine so it's surreal it's happened," Smith said. "I can remember my first test here in 2012 and it's flown by. It's been a high stress week with trying to keep the emotions in check and sort the family, the tickets, the transport but most importantly I'm really happy we won. It was an awesome test match to be part of so it's a really nice feeling to win on Eden Park."

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission