This article previews the opening Rugby Championship fixture between the Wallabies and All Blacks at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. The game kicks off at 8:00 PM AEST on Saturday the 18th of August.
The Tri Nations has been rebranded as the Rugby Championship with the inclusion of Argentina this year. Each team will play home and away against the other sides over six rounds. The competition runs from August 18 to October 6.
The Wallabies and All Blacks will contest the Bledisloe Cup over three fixtures, with Australia hosting two games. The Wallabies have failed to recapture the Bledisloe Cup after relinquishing it in 2003, but this is the first three-game Bledisloe Cup series since where Australia has received home advantage for two games. The third and final game will be played on the 20th of October, after the conclusion of the Rugby Championship.
Wallabies vs. All Blacks
Below are the most recent results between the two sides. New Zealand have won the last two meetings at ANZ Stadium by a solitary point. In the last four years, under coach Robbie Deans, the Wallabies have lost 11 of their 14 Tests against the All Blacks.
June 2012 Results
The Wallabies suffered a shock 6-9 loss to Scotland in Newcastle before sweeping the three-game series against Wales 27-19, 25-23 and 20-19. Berrick Barnes was man of the match in two of those games.
The All Blacks swept the three-game series against Ireland 42-10, 22-19 and 60-0. New Zealand almost lost the second Test after failing to match the Irish intensity at the breakdown. This was promptly rectified for the third Test, with the All Blacks winning comfortably despite resorting to their third choice fly-half midway through the first half.
There are only a few changes from the Wallabies starting line up from the third Test against Wales in June. Dave Dennis gets his second Test start at blindside-flanker, Scott Higginbotham moves from blindside-flanker to No. 8 in place of the injured Wycliff Palu and Anthony Faingaa starts at inside-centre in place of the injured Pat McCabe.
Quade Cooper has been omitted from the 22-man squad. Berrick Barnes has retained his position as the Wallabies’ starting flay-half, with Cooper also overlooked for the bench. Cooper has missed Australia’s past five Tests and only played in five Super Rugby games since undergoing knee surgery after the World Cup.
Halfback Nick Phipps and outside back Drew Mitchell are the only two backs on the seven-man bench.
15 – Kurtley Beale, 14 – Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 – Rob Horne, 12 – Anthony Faingaa, 11 – Digby Ioane, 10 – Berrick Barnes, 9 – Will Genia, 8 – Scott Higginbotham, 7 – David Pocock (captain), 6 – Dave Dennis, 5 – Nathan Sharpe, 4 – Sitaleki Timani, 3 – Sekope Kepu, 2 – Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 – Benn Robinson
Reserves: 16 – Stephen Moore, 17 – James Slipper, 18 – Rob Simmons, 19 – Radike Samo, 20 – Michael Hooper, 21 – Nick Phipps, 22 – Drew Mitchell
After a drawn out saga, Sonny Bill Williams has been cleared for this weekend’s clash. The New Zealand Rugby Union and Panasonic Wild Knights have agreed to terms for a two-week deal which sees Sonny Bill play the first two tests against Australia before his move to Japan. The All Blacks were keen to secure his services in the absence of injured Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui. Sonny Bill Williams will partner Ma’a Nonu in midfield.
Luke Romano has edged out Brodie Retallick to start at lock, while Liam Messam gets the nod at blindside-flanker ahead of Victor Vito who starts on the bench and Adam Thompson who missed out on selection. Hosea Gear starts on the left wing with Julian Savea missing out.
15 – Israel Dagg, 14 – Cory Jane, 13 – Ma’a Nonu, 12 – Sonny Bill Williams, 11 – Hosea Gear, 10 – Dan Carter, 9 – Aaron Smith, 8 – Kieran Read, 7 – Richie McCaw (captain), 6 – Liam Messam, 5 – Sam Whitelock, 4 – Luke Romano, 3 – Owen Franks, 2 – Keven Mealamu, 1 – Tony Woodcock
Reserves: 16 – Andrew Hore, 17 – Ben Franks, 18 – Brodie Retallick, 19 – Victor Vito, 20 – Piri Weepu, 21 – Aaron Cruden, 22 – Ben Smith.
In the context of the Bledisloe Cup this is arguably a must win game for the Wallabies. The second Test between the two sides is in Eden Park where the All Blacks haven’t lost to the Wallabies since 1986. A loss here could see the Bledisloe Cup decided prior to the third Test in Brisbane.
Super Rugby fans will note that the Wallabies squad his heavy in Waratahs players – eight in the starting line-up with five in the forward pack up by my counting – with no Brumbies players in the starting 15. Coach Robbie Deans could come under scrutiny for his selections if the Wallabies don’t win this Test. Some of the selections suggest that Deans has defence in mind, with the All Blacks playing with Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu in midfield. Horne and Faingaa are known more as being ball runners than passers, so Berrick Barnes will be the main playmaker. Super Rugby fans will be quick to point out he didn’t have a great Super Rugby campaign, but his selection is on the back of his strong performances against Wales. Kurtley Beale will play at fullback, but is expected to fill in at first receiver at times to add flair to the Wallabies attack.
I predict the All Blacks will be in the ascendancy at scrum time. The Waratahs scrum was pretty average this season and they make up five of the eight-man scrum. The All Blacks have been strong in this area over recent years, with the powerful Crusaders pack making up a large part of the forwards.
It will be interesting to see how Horne and Faingaa match up against Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu in midfield. There is reportedly a 36kg weight difference between the opposing centres. I’ve also heard that Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu are the biggest midfield pairing in international rugby history. The Wallabies have identified this matchup as key to their game plan. Digby Ioane has said “for us, it’s just making sure we’re punching through the midfield, just going through them, instead of going wide.”
Meanwhile, the All Blacks have identified Wallabies halfback Will Genia and openside-flanker David Pocock as potential match winners. New Zealand’s planning has centred on them in the build-up to Saturday’s clash.
Across the Tasman there is talk of the All Blacks missing the likes of Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino, with the current side looking a bit “tender.” They will also heavily miss the wily Conrad Smith, who is injured at the moment.
Aggression and urgency at the breakdown will be key to this game. The All Blacks lacked intensity in the second Test against Ireland and could easily have lost that match. They then played the third Test with more tenacity at the ruck and maul area and ran out 60-0 winners. Regarding the All Blacks at the breakdown, Will Genia has said “They tend to dominate there which gives them good, clean quick ball and they tend to stifle a lot of opposition ball because they are so good in that area… We’ve identified that as a big focus in the last couple of weeks and leading into this game and that’s an area where we’re going to have to dominate if we are going to do well against them.” Regarding the Wallabies intensity at the breakdown, Wayne Smith, Chiefs backs coach and former All Blacks assistant coach, has said “Australia are always dangerous, because you’re never quite sure what you are going to get. On their day, in Brisbane last year for example, that first half was ferocious. They were outstanding that day. We had to work really hard in that second half to get anywhere near them. So you are always worried that they are going to have one of those days.”
It will be interesting to see if the Wallabies’ superior build up to the Test pays off on the field. The Wallabies have been together as a unit for longer than the All Blacks due to no Australian sides taking part in the Super Rugby competition from the semi-finals onwards.
I will leave the last word to Will Genia, who said the Wallabies players are driven by the desire to win back the Bledisloe Cup after a long drought, but he feels it would take something “very special” to do that.
Bookmakers fancy the All Blacks for this fixture, installing them as 5.5 point favourites. Punters appear to rate the All Blacks too, with the -5.5 line odds shortening to 1.88 at the time of writing.
The Wallabies will know how important this fixture is so I expect them to throw the kitchen sink at the All Blacks on Saturday, but I can’t help but back the men in black to win this one. Looking at the three previous Wallabies victories under Robbie Deans, two of them were in games where the All Blacks had already secured the Bledisloe Cup. Like the Springboks the All Blacks certainly didn’t prioritise their away fixtures last year in the Tri Nations, with both sides losing every away game. The Wallabies 26-24 victory in Hong Kong in 2010 was the last game in a four game series that the All Blacks held an unassailable 3-0 lead in. When the All Blacks want it badly enough they are extremely hard to beat, and the talk across the Tasman is they’re fired up and focused for this one.
Having said all that the Wallabies are a tough side to play at ANZ Stadium so I don’t expect a blow out. My best bet is for the All Blacks to win by 1-12 at 2.60 odds (Luxbet). Those of you who are more patriotic may want to pair this bet with a head-to-head wager on the Wallabies at 2.95 odds (Luxbet).
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