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Rugby Championship: New Zealand v Australia Preview
New Zealand will be looking to retain the Bledisloe Cup when they take on Australia at the Westpac Stadium this Saturday morning.
We are only a week into the competition and All Blacks already look like they’ve got this one in the bag. Their bonus point victory has given them a handy one point cushion at the top of the log and they still have a home match against all the sides in the competition.
Their first home assignment comes this weekend where they’ll take on an injury-ravaged and demoralised Australian outfit at the Westpac Stadium.
New Zealand v Australia | Saturday 27 August | Westpac Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 1/20 | Draw 40/1 | Australia 8/1
New Zealand (-21.5) 9/10 | Australia (+21.5) 9/10
So much for the All Blacks being in a transitional phase. The side that dismantled the Australians last week looked far from untested. In fact, it looked like they had been playing together for years. I suppose it did help that the Wallabies looked about as undercooked as roadkill, but still one cannot help marvel at the way that Steve Hansen’s men tore their opponents apart.
The foundation for the All Blacks mammoth 34 point victory was started by a brilliant bit of play from Kieran Read. Having conceded an early penalty, which Aussie pivot Bernard Foley duly stepped up and put the ball through the sticks, New Zealand hit back immediately when a poor clearance kick from Matt Giteau was pounced upon by Israel Dagg. The All Black fifteen took the ball into contact and a quick recycle saw the ball spread to the left-hand side of the field.
The Australian defence parted like the Red Sea at this point with Kieran Read playing the role of Moses. But instead of a staff, Read used a quick show of the ball to open up space for Ryan Crotty who was flying down the wing like a Golden Retriever after a tennis ball. The Crusaders centre latched on to his skipper’s pass, fended off three would-be tacklers and dotted down under the sticks. This try opened up the flood gates and the All Blacks ran in another three five-pointers before the whistle blew for half-time.
The All Blacks continued to dominate the territory and possession stakes in the second stanza and their finally points tally of 42 could have been a lot greater had it not been for a few handling errors.
This was a real polished performance from the men from “the land of the long white cloud”despite a few second-half gaffs will ball in hand. It was a huge signal of intent and one that should be heeded by Argentine head coach Daniel Hourcade and South Africa’s man in the hot seat, Allister Coetzee.
The only sour note for Steven Hansen is the amount of injuries his side has sustained over the past few weeks. The two hardest hit areas being hooker and the midfield.
Having already lost Nathan Harris for the remainder of the year due to a ruptured ACL and then seeing Codie Taylor pick up a concussion five minutes into last week’s Rugby Championship opener, Steve Hansen has been forced to call in the cavalry with Auckland Blues skipper James Parson returning to the squad after a two-year hiatus. Parson isn’t the only hooker to be called up to the squad with Highlanders' bearded bruiser Liam Coltman also cracking the nod.
Hansen has called up New Zealand Sevens star Reiko Ioane and Chief’s man Seta Tamanivalu as cover in the midfield with Ryan Crotty having also picked up a concussion during last week’s Test.
While Dane Coles is likely to get the nod at hooker, who takes over in the centres is a real conundrum. Malakai Feikitoa is sure to occupy one of the midfield berths but there is still a large question mark over who will partner him. Each of Hansen’s options has their merits with Reiko Ioane offering x-factor in spades, Anton-Lienert Brown being an assured if somewhat limited option and Seta Tamanivalu being the most powerful runner and hard-hitting defender of the lot.
If I were to hazard a guess here, I'd be putting my money on Leinart-Brown lining up alongside Feikitoa. Other than that and Coles getting the start, I can’t see the All Black mentor making any further changes to his run-on XV.
2016 is certainly not the year of the Wallaby. Micheal Cheika’s men have now lost all four of their Tests this year and things could get a lot worse for them this weekend as they prepare to enter into the lair of the beast.
While it’s never easy to take on the New Zealanders at the Westpac Stadium, this year could be substantially tougher as this is the home ground of the world’s most in-form rugby player, Beauden Barrett. The Hurricanes pivot was in sensational form last weekend running the Australian defence ragged. He was guilty of leaving a few points out on the ANZ Stadium turf with his goal kicking being a little substandard. But as we all know, there’s nothing more a goal kicker enjoys than kicking on their home patch. And despite the generally appalling kicking conditions Barrett has to contend with in Wellington, the soon to be 2017 World Rugby Player of the Year – I’m so confident he’ll win it that I’m already tipping him to claim the accolade six months before the awards ceremony – has a brilliant kicking record at the Westpac.
So how do Australia beat New Zealand this weekend? The brutal and honest answer? They don’t. New Zealand are simply a class above anyone else in world rugby. The only side I could see giving them a run for their money are England and the 'Poms would still need the All Blacks to have an off day to achieve this. For Australia, this Test is nothing more than a face-saving exercise. If they can avoid getting drummed by last week’s scoreline then that will be a victory in itself.
In terms of team news for this one, Australia lost three centres – well one of them was makeshift in the form of Rob Horne - during the opening half of last week’s Test so Michael Cheika will have to mix and match in order to field a pairing. My suspicion is that he’ll bring Israel Folau into the outside centre role, something he’s been reluctant to do in the past, and line him up alongside Tevita Kuridraini.
The Stats That Matter
Last week’s 42-8 scoreline was the second largest victory margin by New Zealand over Australia. The current record was set in Wellington in 1996 where New Zealand ran out 43-6 victors – a rather ominous stat considering that this weekend’s Test is being played in the same city.
New Zealand have only lost two Tests at the ground since it was erected in 1999. These defeats came against Australia (24-23) in 2000 and England (15-13) in 2003. These two sides were arguably the two best that either nation produced with the Australians having gone into their 2000 Test fresh off the back of 1999 World Cup glory and the English side about to win the 2003 World Cup.
Verdict: New Zealand (-21.5) 9/10
It’s going to be a very dark day for Australian rugby. You could add an extra fifteen points on to this handicap and I’d still bite your hand off to take it.