JON CARDINELLI says the All Blacks’ physical superiority will set the platform for another Wallabies-scalping and ultimately another Tri-Nations title.
The Wallabies will still be hurting from that crushing defeat at Eden Park. They went into that fixture brimming with confidence given the Reds’ two wins against the Crusaders in Super Rugby, but were served a powerful reminder that on the Test stage, the Kiwis are still the kings. They were hammered up front by a relentless All Blacks’ pack, and handed a tactical lesson by flyhalf Dan Carter.
The Wallabies will have taken heart from their performance against the Springboks, as they delivered a powerful forward showing and maintained their intensity to secure the result. But then that performance must be viewed in context as the majority of that Bok side hadn’t played for two months and were always going to falter in the dying stages.
Perhaps the Wallabies realise the fact, as reports from Australia indicate that they’ve been preparing ferociously for another All Blacks onslaught. From the first whistle at Suncorp Stadium, we can expect a brutal war at the point of contact.
Do the Wallabies have the heavies to match the All Blacks? I still have my doubts. Even though Graham Henry has taken a gamble by resting Jerome Kaino for a game that will serve as good preparation for the World Cup, the All Blacks should still have the edge at the scrum, collisions and breakdowns.
Owen Franks will lend the All Blacks’ scrum more power and stability. The Aussies are talking up loosehead Sekope Kepu, but the Crusaders No 3 must be the favourite to win that contest. It will help that Franks will be playing alongside two veterans in Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock, the latter having made his comeback to international rugby last week.
Robbie Deans has also made a few interesting selections, picking Radike Samo at No 8 and the undercooked Dan Vickerman at lock. Samo will be expected to lend the Wallabies’ mobility as well as physicality while Rocky Elsom has a point to prove in the latter aspect. If the hosts are going to beat their much fancied Kiwi counterparts in a breakdown barney, Elsom will need to deliver some telling blows.
The potency of Richie McCaw and Wallabies fetcher David Pocock will be determined by the success of the respective sides at the collisions. The All Blacks will miss Kaino as a ball-carrier and defender, and there are relevant questions about Adam Thomson’s ability in a tight, grinding game. But as a collective, the All Blacks’ pack should still be too strong for the Wallabies. The physicality of their backline will also ensure that they get over the gain line, and Ma’a Nonu will view this as an opportunity to show the world why he’s favoured ahead of the freakishly talented Sonny Bill Williams.
Rain is forecast for Saturday, and this weather will suit the All Blacks as they are better equipped for a battle at the trenches. If the rain stays away, the Wallabies will attempt to play the game at a high tempo. While they may have prepared for a physical battle, their best chance of winning is obtaining parity in the forward exchanges and then employing their expansive game.
While both teams have the potential to produce some spectacular running rugby, the kicking game will also be crucial to the outcome. Henry has somewhat strangely decided to rest Jimmy Cowan for this final Test before the World Cup, and given Piri Weepu a start at No 9. Together with Carter, the halfback pair will be tasked with playing the All Blacks into promising positions.
The All Blacks will back their defence, as they did in Auckland, against an impressive Wallabies attack, and have the players to make the most of counter-attacking opportunities. They have the personnel to effect turnovers at the breakdown (read McCaw), and the decision makers at halfback to exploit these turnovers. They also have the finishers in Cory Jane and Zac Guildford to ensure these turnovers are translated into points.
The All Blacks forwards were dominant in Auckland and Carter was prominent as an attacking catalyst, defensive manager and goal-kicking exponent. He will take that form through to this clash and the Wallabies should be concerned that they still lack a reliable performer in the latter department. James O’Connor has been suspended and so one of Kurtley Beale or Quade Cooper will be asked to shoot for goal.
It’s a situation that doesn’t inspire confidence. If the scoreline is close you get the feeling that the Wallabies’ goal-kicking will let them down at the crucial moment.
Prediction: All Blacks by 8
Wallabies – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Anthony Fainga’a, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Salesi Ma’afu, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 TBC
All Blacks – 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 John Afoa, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Isaia Toeava