It was always going to be a big weekend of sport. With the Swans spending Friday night at the Adelaide Oval trying to bring down the top team and the Wallabies welcoming the All Blacks to Sydney, there was a lot of work to be done. Sadly, only one team delivered the result I was after. At the end of the day, though, it was better than two losses.
I was scheduled to return home early on Friday evening and had made plans to settle in front of the TV and watch the swans play what I suspected would be a cracking game of footy. High winds and an airline stuff up saw me settling in front of a TV in a Melbourne hotel room. It was annoying, sure, but I could still watch the game, so I wasn’t too upset.
I couldn’t have predicted the great start that we got off to. It was exactly what you always hope for but rarely get. It is not by mere luck though that Adelaide sit on top of the ladder. I was more than prepared for them to fight back and turn it into the close game everyone was hoping for. And fight they did.
Throughout the match the crowd had a pretty massive impact. Adelaide Oval is far from a friendly place for opposition teams and you couldn’t help but notice the influence the crowd had on the umpiring decisions. Hilariously the commentators claimed to have been oblivious to any bias, however were brought back to earth when the stat of 28 free kicks to 14 was presented to them.
While it was our composure that ultimately won us the game, our goal kicking was impressive. With only 5 behinds kicked all night, it was really what proved the difference, with Adelaide struggling to convert their set shots. Sam Reid was again outstanding and finds himself in just the place at the right time.
With four minutes to go my heart was pounding. A three point lead is far from sufficient with any kind of time left on the clock. I was completely prepared for my heart to be broken but amazingly it wasn’t. It was hardly surprising that in the closing stages Rohan was there to collect the ball and ensure it was up the right end of the ground when the final siren sounded. All I can say heading into finals is guys, look out. We’re coming.
Saturday saw me finally return to Sydney and I was able to settle in for a night of rugby. Or something. I am not sure what I was watching in the first half but it definitely didn’t feel like a test match. It was nothing short of embarrassing. Following an early passage of play where we put together 16 phases and got a measly three points for our efforts, we patted ourselves on the back and then lay down.
The All Blacks steam rolled over us. Over, and over, again. Our defense was non-existent. We seemed to politely step aside as they ran in try after try. You could have been forgiven for thinking you were watching a first grade side taking on a fourth grade side; the skill level was so disparate. I was counting down to half time, willing the pain to stop. Thankfully it eventually arrived, but not soon enough.
With the game well and truly lost it was not surprising that Cheika made changes in the second half. Kuridrani, Polata-Nau and even Phipps made a huge difference when they came on. Kuridrani is the sort of solid and straight running player we need, especially with Beale back in the side. Both he and Polata-Nau injected a sense of urgency in defense and the team as a whole lifted.
With their backs to the wall they did well to outscore New Zealand in the second half but there was a lot that factored into it. With nothing to lose, our players felt free in taking a chance with their attack. New Zealand on the other hand had played an entire match in the first half, so were really a little tired and aware they had already won the game, didn’t have the same level of urgency as us.
While the first half was horrendous, the second was not bad viewing. Sure, we let them score more points against us than they ever have before, but it was a game unlike any I have seen before. The pace and intensity was ridiculous, even for New Zealand. All we can hope is that the next match is a little slower and we find our way into it earlier on. I haven’t completely given up hope and if we can improve our defense we stand half a chance. As Cheika said, “It is that simple, we just need to make those tackles.”