The Wallabies and All Blacks square off in the opening game of the 2017 Rugby Championship at the ANZ Stadium this Saturday the 19th of August.
Australia and New Zealand are set to meet in one of the most important Bledisloe Cup/Rugby Championship games in the history of Australian rugby, with the Aussie media dubbing the match as ‘The Fight for Rugby Union’s Survival’ in the ‘Land Down Under’. The hosts face an Everest-esque mountain here as they are taking on an All Blacks side who will be determined to make up for their drawn series with the British and Irish Lions.
Can Michael Hooper’s men restore some pride for all rugby lovers in Australia or will the All Blacks run rampant a la 2016?
Australia v New Zealand | Saturday 19 August | ANZ Stadium | 11:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Australia 6/1 | Draw 33/1 | New Zealand 1/10
Australia (+16.5) 9/10 | New Zealand (-16.5) 9/10
Less than two years after the Wallabies appearance in the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final, Australian rugby finds itself in crisis. 16 months of abysmal performances by the Australian franchises in Super Rugby and a steady decline in results from the Wallabies has left fans disillusioned with the game of Union.
The Wallabies head into this Test off the back of a terrible June series that saw them lose to Scotland in Australia for the first time in history. And while they did manage to claim wins over Fiji and Italy, they were far from impressive in those two fixtures. So bad were the Wallabies in June that die hard supporter Jack Quigley’s Facebook rant about how the Wallabies didn’t value the jersey went viral and Wallaby coach Michael Cheika was left to play the role of PR office, phoning up Mr Quigley to address his concerns.
Anyway, let’s move away from fanatical fans and coaches moonlighting as PR representatives and on to the Wallabies team news for the opener. Mercurial utility back Dane Haylett-Petty has been ruled out with a bicep strain which means Rugby League convert Curtis Rona will make his debut on the wing. While the loss of Haylett-Petty is a big blow, it will be offset somewhat by the return of Kurtley Beale who comes in at inside centre. Beale will bring some real flair to a backline that’s in desperate need of it.
In the forward pack, Steven Moore gets a start at hooker but the captain’s armband will be worn by Michael Hooper. Scott Fardy is still in international limbo, so his place on the side of the scrum is taken by impressive Waratahs young gun Ned Hannigan. Hooper and Hannigan will be joined in the loose trio by the returning Sean McMahon.
It’s strange to think how big a failure New Zealanders are viewing the drawn series with the Lions as. I mean, the All Blacks have only lost one game this year and yet their coaching staff have gone into overdrive working on the players’ skill sets and mentalities. I suppose that type of dedication and not settling for above-average performances is why the New Zealand rugby has been so successful.
Speaking of the Lions series, the All Blacks have lost a few players from the squad that took on Britain and Ireland’s finest with wonder boy Jordie Barrett being ruled out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. The absence of the youngest of Barretts means that Chiefs Whippet Damian McKenzie will get a start at fullback this Saturday.
McKenzie joins sensational young gun Rieko Ioane and soon-to-be-on-sabbatical Ben Smith in a lethal back three. There’s also a return for Sonny Bill-Williams who, in one of the most crooked pieces of law manipulation, saw out his ban for a dangerous clean out during the second Test against the Lions, in a friendly match. last week Williams will link up in the centres with the ultra-consistent Ryan Crotty.
In the forward pack, Liam Squire gets a start on the flank in place of Jerome Kaino, while Codie Taylor retains the hooking berth with Dane Coles ruled out due to another head knock.
Verdict: New Zealand (-16.5) 9/10
I’m expecting a bit of a response from the Wallabies here but I don’t think it will be enough to see them stay within the 16.5 handicap. The All Blacks beat them by a margin of more than 19 points in all three Tests between the two sides last year and I can see that happening again. Get on the visitors to clear a moderate handicap at 9/10!