All Blacks’ response is usually swift, but Dave Rennie is the outlier


Flick through the rugby almanac and history will reveal swift responses to All Black defeats.

Last week’s opening Bledisloe Cup opener in Wellington finished with almost nine minutes of frantic squandered chances and a dramatic draw, of course.

To the All Blacks, the feeling was defeat.

The Ian Foster-Sam Cane era was not supposed to start on the backfoot.

In the first chance to lay down a marker, following a near year-long absence from the Test arena, the All Blacks didn’t meet the Wallabies physical intent at the breakdown and, therefore, didn’t lay the desired platform.

That Nic White dominated Aaron Smith’s influence says everything about where the contest was prior to extended added time.

This issue of forward dominance, or lack of, is symptomatic with deflating All Black defeats in recent times – the semifinal loss to England, and the Wallabies upset in Perth last year case in point.

The bear shouldn’t need to be poked; the All Blacks shouldn’t need a smack on the nose to carry out core physical duties such as the cleanout, dominant defence and ball protection.

In many ways escaping with a draw, with both sides overlooking the drop goal, served that very reminder.

Everyone, including the Wallabies, knows the All Blacks will bring a fury to their work at Eden Park, their spiritual home, on Sunday.

Yet a strange sense of uncertainty surrounds the second Bledisloe. Primarily that’s due to the end of Michael Cheika’s erratic term, and Dave Rennie’s arrival.

From his success with the New Zealand under-20s to Wellington, Manawatu and the Chiefs, every Kiwi team Rennie touched turned to gold.

The only difference now is he’s wearing it.

In securing Rennie as Wallabies coach Australia pried open intimate knowledge, a treasure trove, of intelligence on the New Zealand game and many of their leading players.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie are among those Rennie mentored for at least four years at the Chiefs – and he’s long analysed the vast majority of the All Blacks squad from rival Super teams.

In any sport that inside oil is a big advantage.

Speak to any player who spends time with Rennie and they espouse his ability to bond teams through an inclusive culture that embraces diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Getting his hands on young, emerging prospects such as Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Harry Wilson and Filipo Daugunu suits Rennie’s skill set in shaping the next generation too.

No doubt two weeks in quarantine in Christchurch, and Michael Hooper’s 100th Test, added to the hunger within the Wallabies last week.

One week on, they must raise that level further.

From an on-field perspective Rennie’s imprint at the breakdown was all over last week. Hurricanes captain Dane Coles knows Rennie’s Chiefs style well, saying it was “ruck chaos” all over again with the Wallabies.

Taking players out off the ball, holding opposition on the deck, doing anything possible to disrupt. These tactics worked perfectly for the Wallabies as they largely frustrated and stifled the All Blacks limited attacking opportunities.

The nature of Australia’s performance, as the Wallabies seek to wrestle back the Bledisloe for the first time in 17 years, was enough for director of rugby Scott Johnson to proclaim “once we’re back on the map, watch out” on New Zealand television show The Breakdown this week.

And with that, the All Blacks move to their comfort blanket at Eden Park, scene of the 2011 World Cup triumph and graveyard for many, many foreign teams since the last, infamous defeat to France in 1994.

With two of the three remaining Bledisloe matches in Australia, it’s imperative the All Blacks leave home with one in the bank to allow Foster to breathe significantly easier after starting his era on a shaky note.

Several injury clouds hover over the All Blacks this week. Richie Mo’unga – after he copped several late shots from the Wallabies – Sam Whitelock and Beauden Barrett are all somewhat doubtful.

Whitelock’s post match headaches may pave the way for Crusaders captain Scott Barrett’s return after three months on the sideline following toe surgery.

Mo’unga’s shoulder isn’t considered too grave and Barrett’s Achilles is said to be minor, though can flare up at any time, with All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree revealing it bothered him all season for the Blues.

Rust and the disruption of Damian McKenzie slotting into fullback for Barrett two days before the Wellington Test, to a degree, unsettled the All Blacks last week.

The All Blacks are often off their game in the first Test of the year and they will hope that trend has merely extended from the usual July to October window due to the pandemic.

One performance by no means makes a tenure but with Rennie at the helm, there’s already a strong sense the Wallabies are a different beast.

Winning at Eden Park, for the first time since 1986, is another challenge again.

Like moving through the seasons, or the going down of the sun, the All Blacks responding to defeat or, in this case a draw, has become just as customary.

After last year’s loss in Perth the All Blacks humbled Cheika’s Wallabies 36-0 at this Auckland venue.

With their pride hurt, the All Blacks will again respond but the second installment of Foster versus Rennie will be no blowout.

The battle for the Bledisloe is again alive and well.

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