All Blacks-O-Meter: Australian Rugby Intelligence on the rise?

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James Mortimer     17 Apr 2013     Getty Images

In the Wallabies halcyon days of rugby rule, where the turn of the century had a distinct gold hue about it, Australia celebrated a record Bledisloe Cup reign while winning their second World Cup, adding the Tri-Nations and a Lions scalp to that list not long after.

There were certainly elements of premier class about the Wallabies in those days, as it is now.

Individuals capable of brilliance were present, but one thing was for certain, few Wallaby packs, even when on the winning side, terrorised their opposites into the turf with disdain.

It was because they were thinkers, and while the addition of class out wide might have finished things off, there was a deliberate plan and style that belied any other factors – most of all physical.

The Brumbies, Reds and Force did not boast monster packs as compared to their Kiwi counterparts, as it has been throughout many All Blacks v Wallabies contests throughout time.

The Aussie men up front lay the first planks of a series of carefully laid plans which showed, perhaps for the first time in over a decade (corresponding with the matching of a 12-year record of success for Australian teams in trans-Tasman Super Rugby action), a ruthless intelligence and implementation of strategy designed to overcome the opposition.

History, as always a rudimentary pointer, shows that this is far from a doomsday event for New Zealand Rugby teams.

While they may like to play traditionally a touch looser, such a freestyle form of game play often leads to the natural ball playing brilliance almost inherent in the small country’s DNA – and more often than not even a team of thinkers and master strategists can’t compete with the level of rugby that the All Blacks and other Kiwi sides touch when things fall into place.

But Perth proved that even when a New Zealand side throws the kitchen sink at their rivals on attack, a well-structured and committed defence can shut down even the most positive intentions.

Obvious as well was the ‘die for your brother’ attitude when the Australian sides didn’t have the ball, with of late accusations of less than ideal physical intent being put aside emphatically where the attitude made some players look more immense than they were.

They were not more powerful Australian teams by deeds of strength over the weekend, but had specific areas of intent which gave the sides that ominous feeling that can creep into a game where it seems – irrespective of point’s margin – they cannot lose.

It is early days still in Super Rugby, and the 12-year record that was matched in terms of results over the weekend was always one day going to be met.

But it will be the clinical and smart approach that the Australian sides brought to the park that would have grabbed the intention of more than one or two people, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, still arguably with the greater talent pool, will have a tough season not only with the management of a veteran squad, but of a unforgiving tactical rugby landscape that has caught out the world’s number one team before.

Last year Hansen and his team were unchallenged by results and seemed, bar the 14th Test in London, to be ahead of their enemies at all times.

Keeping this edge will be paramount for Hansen and his class of 2013.