The following is a preview of the Round 2 Rugby Championship clash between New Zealand and Australia at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. The game kicks off at 5:35 PM AEST on Saturday, the 24th of August. The referee is Jaco Peyper from South Africa.
The Wallabies suffered an ignominious 29–47 defeat to the All Blacks in Sydney last week. It was the Wallabies’ worst result against the All Blacks in Sydney since 2003. Last year’s results were as follows:
20 Oct 2012 (Brisbane) – Australia 18-18 New Zealand (Bledisloe Cup dead rubber)
25 Aug 2012 (Auckland) – New Zealand 22-0 Australia
18 Aug 2012 (Sydney) – Australia 19-27 New Zealand
Since 2008 the All Blacks have a 15-1-3 record against the Wallabies. New Zealand have won the last ten straight Tests between the two sides when the Bledisloe Cup was still up in the air.
It’s 2011 all over again as the All Blacks are forced to combat the loss of their top three fly-halves. Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett have all been ruled out leaving Tom Taylor and Colin Slade as their best available options. Lock Luke Romano is out for the rest of the Rugby Championship with a groin injury. He has been replaced by Brodie Retallick with Jeremy Thrush added to the bench. Liam Messam remains out with a hamstring injury so Steven Luatua retains his place. In other bench changes, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett and Charles Piutau have been added at the expense of Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks and Ryan Crotty.
1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Andrew Hore, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Samuel Whitelock, 6. Steven Luatua, 7. Richie McCaw (captain), 8. Kieran Read, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Tom Taylor, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 13. Conrad Smith, 14. Ben Smith, 15. Israel Dagg
Reserves: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Charlie Faumuina, 19. Jeremy Thrush, 20. Sam Cane, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Colin Slade, 23. Charles Piutau
Ewen McKenzie has resisted the urge to make sweeping changes after last week’s heavy defeat. In the only change to the starting fifteen, backrower Hugh McMeniman is out for six months with a shoulder injury and has been replaced by Scott Fardy with Kane Douglas added to the bench.
15. Jesse Mogg, 14. Israel Folau, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Christian Leali’ifano, 11. James O’Connor, 10. Matt Toomua, 9. Will Genia, 8. Ben Mowen, 7. Michael Hooper, 6. Scott Fardy, 5. James Horwill (captain), 4. Rob Simmons, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. James Slipper
Reserves: 16. Saia Fainga’a, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Sekope Kepu, 19. Kane Douglas, 20. Liam Gill, 21. Nic White, 22. Quade Cooper 23. Tevita Kuridrani
Last year the Wallabies lost 19-27 in a competitive fixture in Sydney only to be thumped 22-nil in Auckland a week later. This time round they find themselves trying to rebound from an 18-point home defeat so pessimists will be fearing the worst on Saturday. The All Blacks and the New Zealand media have spoken at length about the need to avoid complacency, so most aren’t expecting the All Blacks to let up in Round 2. Another cause for concern is the All Blacks have room to improve. Israel Dagg had a quiet game last week while captain Richie McCaw was rusty in the first half. Also, tries in New Zealand have been hard to come by for the Wallabies. They have scored just two tries on New Zealand soil in their last five visits.
For the few Australian optimists remaining, there are two positives for the Wallabies to draw on. The first is they too have room for improvement after putting in a sub-par performance in Sydney. After much talk about enthusiasm in the camp regarding the secret plans of new coach Ewen McKenzie, the Wallabies were nonthreatening in attack for much of the game last week. It takes time to refine new combinations under a new coach so I expect the Wallabies to be more fluent in attack now that they’ve had another week of training together. A second area for improvement is ball retention. The Wallabies scored a respectable 29 points in Sydney but coughed up too much possession in dangerous territory. A couple of other notes are they failed to make adequate use of Israel Folau, who only had four runs in the first 35 minutes. Also, Jesse Mogg will have to improve on his defensive effort.
The second cause for optimism in the Wallabies camp is the All Blacks are down to their 4th choice fly-half now that Carter, Cruden and Barrett have been ruled out. This leaves them with the uncapped Tom Taylor and the injury-prone Colin Slade as their best options. Tom Taylor has been preferred over Colin Slade due to his superior goal kicking accuracy. Slade was particularly poor in the 2013 Super Rugby season, with a 68% success rate, while Taylor is considered to be one of the best kickers in the country. Wallabies fans will be hoping that Taylor is a flop on debut, but nevertheless, the All Blacks on paper should be weaker without the flair of Carter or Cruden.
It’s interesting that the line opened at -13.5 for New Zealand because at first glance you would expect higher. The All Blacks have won their last five home fixtures against the Wallabies by an average of almost 18 points and they beat Australia comprehensively last week. Bookmakers are obviously treating the All Blacks’ fly-half situation as a big issue. Also, it is worth noting that in 2010 Australia were thumped 28-49 by the All Blacks in Melbourne. A week later the All Blacks won 20-10 in Christchurch – just a 10-point margin compared to 21 points the week before. Looking back further, in 2003 the All Blacks won 50-21 in Sydney. A few weeks later the All Blacks won in Auckland by just 4 points. Bookmakers are evidently expecting that history will repeat itself and they tend to be right more often than not!
Nevertheless, in the line betting I’m leaning towards backing the All Blacks. I do expect Australia to be more competitive this week, but I’m going with the better side as they boast far more experience. While Tom Taylor is making his debut at fly-half for the All Blacks, Matt Toomua is only playing in his second Test for the Wallabies so I don’t think New Zealand will be at a major disadvantage in that position. Luxbet for some reason have more generous line odds on New Zealand than other bookmakers at the moment, so if I had to bet at the line I would take New Zealand -9.5 at 1.63 in the Luxbet pick-your-own-line market.
For this fixture I actually prefer the head-to-head market. At the time of writing the highest available head-to-head odds on the All Blacks are 1.18 with Sportsbet and IASbet. Given the All Blacks have won their last 13 home games against the Wallabies I find those odds generous so if I were betting in the head-to-head market I would take the All Blacks.
You can compare the latest bookmaker odds for the Rugby Championship in the live bookmaker odds section.