x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Wallabies lack the killer instinct

As the All Blacks head to South Africa, delighted that they were able to keep intact their 15-year unbeaten record at Eden Park, the Wallabies were infuriated by the Test match they bombed big time on Saturday night.

As the All Blacks head to South Africa, delighted that they were able to keep intact their 15-year unbeaten record at Eden Park, the Wallabies were infuriated by the Test match they bombed big time on Saturday night. If ever the Wallabies were going to end an 11-Test and 23-year losing sequence against the All Blacks in Auckland, it was on the weekend when they had at least five opportunities to put away their opponents, but couldn't.

They were unable to take advantage of several important try-scoring chances. Nearly every time they found themselves in the All Blacks quarter they would either lose the ball at the breakdown or be penalised by an ever-jittery South African referee Craig Joubert. It appears the Bledisloe Cup is already lost for another year. The Wallabies, who can only blame themselves for their inability to handle the big moment, must now win the remaining three matches of the series in Sydney, Wellington and Tokyo to take the cup away from New Zealand for the first time since 2003.

The most telling moment of the Test occurred in the 17th minute when Wallabies inside centre Berrick Barnes had the chance to give Australia a 12-point lead when he broke through and had both captain Stirling Mortlock and winger Drew Mitchell in the clear. Either would have scored comfortably, but Barnes, normally the most assured and intelligent of midfielders, blundered by continuing on his run, and then throwing a wild pass to his flanker George Smith, which hit him in the head. The moment was lost.

A depressed Barnes later shrugged his shoulders and said: "I should have given the pass, I know that. I was spoilt by choice, and those moments hurt you in big games. It's gone. There's not much I can do about it. I'd love to bring it back. But I can't." But what was most depressing about that moment was that numerous other Wallabies decided to follow suit. For the next hour, the Wallabies repeatedly made their way into the All Blacks quarter, but virtually every time they did, they would either lose possession under a mound of bodies, or Joubert would penalise them.

And ever so gradually the All Blacks took control of the Test which, even though being far from impressive, gave them the perfect start to the Tri Nations tournament, which is certain to become even more intense in the coming fortnight in South Africa. In the background, the Wallabies will ponder over the next three weeks where they lost their way, especially as they are improving in numerous areas, including in defence, conditioning, and skill level.

But there are still three mind-numbing factors which continue to drag the Wallabies down. The All Blacks, even when rusty and playing the most conservative strand of football as they did on Saturday night, have the hex on them. The Wallabies also have not learnt the knack of seizing the big moment, those few seconds of play which so often determine major internationals. They continue to fall away at the most inopportune of times.

Finally they no longer know how to put an opposition away. Deep down the Wallabies know they should have won in Auckland, and they didn't, not due to the might and power of the opposition, but because they lack a required characteristic of a champion team-killer instinct. The All Blacks have it. The Springboks have it. The Wallabies fall short in that area, which could easily see them for another season being Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup also-rans.

@Email:ggrowden@thenational.ae