Auckland – The All Blacks fired an ominous warning to their rivals with a 22-0 weekend demolition of Australia but coach Steve Hansen said the rampant world champions had not yet even hit top gear.
While Argentina and South Africa, who make up the new Rugby Championship with Australia and New Zealand, battled to a 16-16 draw, the All Blacks celebrated achieving a rare whitewash for the second time this year.
Their victory on Saturday was the first time they had kept Australia scoreless in 50 years and followed a 60-0 defeat of Ireland two months ago.
It also means dominant New Zealand retain the Bledisloe Cup, contested between the two nations, for the 10th consecutive season.
Hansen also hinted at some sympathy for under-fire Wallabies coach Robbie Deans as critics in Australia called for him to be dumped after yet another painful loss to their cross-Tasman rivals.
But the All Blacks boss said while his side had improved considerably from their 27-19 win over Australia the previous week in Sydney, they were still short of their best.
“I think we went up two or three gears from where we were last week. We were probably half an inch away from really putting in a performance that would have made us really, really proud,” he said.
“We made some bad decisions at times. One more pass would have been nice or hanging on to a pass and having one more ruck would have been good but we've got a really skilful unit and it's about learning to play together and learning to be patient at times.”
Australian coach Deans was forced to deflect questions about his job security after the defeat extended his miserable record against the All Blacks to 14 defeats in 17 starts, praising his opponents.
“They're a side that's playing with the confidence of being world champions and I don't think there's any side in the world that would have footed it with them tonight,” he said.
Deans admitted the latest setback would do nothing to silence his critics, notably former Wallabies coach Alan Jones, who has said Deans is “not up to it” as an international coach.
But the New Zealand-born Deans said his focus was on preparing his side for the remainder of the Rugby Championship and not on his own position.
“We now reset our sights on South Africa and Argentina. It (job security) is the last thing on my mind at the moment. It's about the team. We have to now pick it up and carry on.”
Hansen, who was Deans' assistant coach when the Canterbury Crusaders won the Super rugby title in 2000, hinted at some sympathy for his former colleague, complimenting the Wallabies' preparation.
“Talking about Australia, I think the scoreline doesn't do them any favours but they really scrambled hard and worked hard and if defence is about their attitude then there's nothing wrong with their attitude,” he said.
“Against a lesser defending side we could have scored 50 or 60 points.”
New Zealand sit on top of the Rugby Championship standings with eight points after two rounds of matches, two points clear of South Africa. Argentina have two points and Australia have zero. – Sapa-AFP