New Zealand may have done a whole lot more than win a Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup match on Saturday at Eden Park in Auckland. They might also have shown the northern hemisphere that the new experimental law variations are not the devil in disguise after all.
For the All Blacks to win by reverting to a structured game based on kicking for position was a surprise. Their coach, Graham Henry, said: "We changed the game plan around and the guys executed that exceptionally well. Everybody involved in New Zealand rugby, the board, the All Blacks and the public, wanted a big performance."
The half-backs, Daniel Carter and Jimmy Cowan, brought such tactical awareness and simplicity to the New Zealand game that it was like watching old-fashioned rugby, performed extremely efficiently. New Zealand, who had lost to Australia in Sydney a week before, won a tremendous Test match.
Crucially, someone other than Carter, the fly-half, was making decisions in the crucial axis of Nos 8, 9 and 10. Rodney So'oialo, restored to the first position, looked everything he had not been at No 7 in the recent defeats by Australia and South Africa. He was dynamic, assured and confident in his role – and dangerous.
New Zealand dominated the line-outs, scrums and break-downs, but there was one less physical quality that tilted the match their way: old-fashioned pride in the jersey. That gave them the burning desire to see off any opponent, to tackle, to cover, to run and to attack until it hurt. And then to do it all again and again.
The fact that the All Blacks were allowed to scrummage by the referee, Mark Lawrence, and the Australians were not allowed to collapse at will, made a significant difference. The Wallaby back row was thus unable to break early and Richie McCaw, the All Blacks' open-side flanker and captain, was first at most breakdowns. He laid the foundations for his team's victory.
Given that he had not played for weeks, since injuring his ankle against England in June, McCaw's display was outstand-ing. Such was the All Blacks' superiority that when Ma'a Nonu scored four minutes after half-time and Carter converted, the match was over at 28-10.
New Zealand had been better in every aspect, the prop Tony Woodcock burrowing over for the first two tries, after 21 and 24 minutes. Carter's five penalties kept the scoreboard ticking over and Nonu's last-minute try – a dubious decision from the video referee, as the centre seemed to lose control of the ball – gave the All Blacks their bonus point.
Now comes the acid test. Can these All Blacks back up such a performance with a display of similar conviction in Cape Town on Saturday week? The danger of reverting to a traditional game is that South Africa, always happiest when confronted with familiarity and a bruising physical contest, will adapt well to such a challenge.
New Zealand: Tries Woodcock 2, Nonu 2; Conversions Carter 2; Penalties Carter 5. Australia: Try Ashley-Cooper; Conversion Giteau; Penalty Giteau.
New Zealand: M Muliaina; R Kahui (S Donald, 75), C Smith (A Tuitavake, 68), M Nonu, S Sivivatu; D Carter, J Cowan (P Weepu, 73); A Woodcock, A Hore (K Mealamu, 66), G Somerville (J Afoa, 58), B Thorn (A Boric, 78), A Williams, J Kaino (A Thomson, 74), R McCaw (capt), R So'oialo.
Australia: A Ashley-Cooper (D Mitchell, 40); P Hynes, S Mortlock (capt), B Barnes (R Cross, 74), L Tuqiri; M Giteau, L Burgess; B Robinson, S Moore (T Polota-Nau, 51), A Baxter, J Horwill, N Sharpe (D Vickerman, 27-37 & 51), P Waugh (H McMeniman, 58), G Smith, W Palu.
Referee: M Lawrence (South Africa).Reuse content