Bledisloe Cup rugby: Gregor Paul – New All Black Caleb Clarke looked like a man playing against boys

The Wallabies must feel they are trapped in a recurring nightmare from which they can never escape – forever destined to wonder whether it’s worthwhile poking the All Blacks’ bear one week only to feel the full wrath of it the next.

Ian Foster would rather have seen his team make an emphatic statement in game one of his reign, but given the pressure that was mounting on him, he’ll settle for the fact that they delivered in game two.

The abrasive edge the All Blacks have been looking for, suddenly turned up, the way it so often does at Eden Park. The steady as she goes mentality of last week was kicked out and replaced with something more urgent: a desire that bordered on desperate at times and could be witnessed every time Ardie Savea carried and his staunch, almost comedic refusal to fall to one knee even when half the Wallaby pack was on his back.

It could be seen in the much improved defence of Shannon Frizell. It could be seen in the way Beauden and Jordie Barrett offered themselves up to crash into the line and most of all, it could be seen in the heroic and awe-inspiring running of Caleb Clarke.

Eden Park has seen some impressive All Blacks No 11s over the years but Clarke, was at times, drawing everyone back to the days of Jonah Lomu in his prime.

It was the way Clarke looked like a man playing against boys, bouncing through tackle after tackle, unstoppable and incorrigible.

Even when the Wallabies thought they’d nailed him, the lid of the coffin would fly open as it were, and off he’d go again.

Clarke made the All Blacks a different team than the one they were in Wellington, because they had an out with him there. They could shift the ball left and things would happen: he’d bust them into space and then the phases could build.

But it’s important to note that it wasn’t just an attitude shift that turned the All Blacks into a more cohesive attacking force.

They made some simple tactical adjustments that reflected their desire to ask harder questions of the Wallabies.

They were willing to drive mauls off lineouts – anywhere on the field, and, they were also less frantic inside the Wallabies’ 22, looking to pick and drive, endlessly if needs be, as long as they were going forward.

The biggest change, though, was that they finally relented to the number of wise voices that have spoken out after recent games to express their desire to see the All Blacks be more direct and confrontational in the way they build their momentum.

Former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith made this point after the All Blacks lost to England at the World Cup and another former head coach, Graham Henry, said much the same over the weekend.

Henry talked of transition zones and a need to exploit either side of the set-piece and ruck, which translated into layman’s terms, meant he would like to see the All Blacks send some big men on short passes up the middle of the field.

Strangely, there has been a reluctance in recent games to see how willing opponents are to put shoulders behind their tackles and keep throwing themselves at direct ball carriers.

The All Blacks have them, but sort of lost interest in using them a few games back, and instead have played almost every phase out the back door, looking to go wide first, forward second.

Henry would hardly be alone in questioning both the logic and effectiveness of this, arguing for a reversal in the chronological order to go forward first, wide second and it’s precisely what happened at Eden Park and the difference was phenomenal.

It’s not that the short balls to Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i, Frizell and Savea led to colossal metres being made, but they got the All Blacks going forward, forced the Wallabies to make more tackles than they wanted to and ground them down.

Rugby at this level is a war of attrition and what we were reminded of at Eden Park, is that this is the sort of warfare the All Blacks are actually really good at.

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