With the second big Bledisloe Cup test looming, just which way both the All Blacks and Wallabies coaches lean with their selections are a fascinating prospect.
If the All Blacks can win in Wellington, they will seal the Bledisloe and increase their lead at the top of the Rugby Championship. The four nation competition is only into round two, but a win would promote the kiwi sides chances. It would continue a fine tradition for Steve Hansen‘s men too, sealing the prized Bledisloe Cup for the 14th straight year.
The Wallabies failed to fire a shot in the opening encounter. As Last Word On Sports’ own Scott Hornell wrote, it was a ‘factory like performance’ from the defending world champions. Can it be repeated? Will Australia put up a stronger fight? History suggests that not only will the visitors be beaten, but the winning margin could be greater.
The reason–clearly, the All Blacks have less pressure on their shoulders and are looking to ‘go in for the kill’ at Westpac Stadium.
New Faces For Second Bledisloe Cup Encounter?
Damian Mckenzie & 19 year old Reiko Ioane called up for the All Blacks 😫🔥💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/teiEGO9wyd
Mostly due to injury, Hansen has been forced to call in a number of replacement players and new faces into the group. Could fans have possibly imagined that the likes of Damian McKenzie and Sevens player Rieko Ioane could both make their debuts so soon? Maybe the prior, more so than the latter.
Oh how quickly things can change in the game of rugby.
With both squads due to be announced on Thursday morning, fans will speculate with great interest about which of the ‘newbies’ will get a run. McKenzie can cover fullback and first five, while Ioane provides options in the midfield and on the wing.
Let’s not forget about Seta Tamanivalu though, arguably the most proven of the midfield options brought in to replace the injured Ryan Crotty. Tamanivalu has had a couple of appearances for the All Blacks already in 2016, impressing many in the process.
Beside the outside backs, the front row has also been depleated. Here, James Parsons is likely to get the nod as backup to Dane Coles. Hansen has lost two hookers in the last week, with Parson’s experience at Super Rugby level suggesting he’s likely ‘next cab off the rank’.
First order of business
You can talk about who should play and where they will fit in all you like. The first order of business for the All Blacks is to win!
Traditionally, Wellington has been a good venue for the men in black. Conditions can be notoriously difficult for kicking in ‘the windy city’. Weather forecasts suggest the cities name might influence conditions? Could this then help the Wallabies game plan? To be cynical, you could actually suggest that the Wallabies discipline will get worse and more penalties will be given away.
And those penalties won’t go without punishment. Beauden Barrett has proven in recent weeks that he has gotten a firm grasp on the swirly conditions. If the Aussie men want a form of payback, resulting penalties would be costly.
You can’t blame Barrett, he does live and work in Wellington after all. Super Rugby champion with the Hurricanes, Barrett is; arguably, the best player in the world right now. In relation to selection, he should be given the start again.
With a seeming positive attitude, All Black fans look confidently toward this coming weekend. From that though, one thing cannot be denied–it is a far darker state of affairs for the visitors. The Wallabies are in one of their worst periods of form for nearly two decades.
Wallabies Labelled ‘Worst Team In A Decade’
The 42-8 drubbing in the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship opener last weekend will go down as one of Michael Chieka‘s darkest days as coach of the Wallabies. There was nothing positive for Wallabies fans to take away from what happened at ANZ Stadium.
Arguably, it was the worst performances against the All Blacks in two decades. For a team with such fire power, the decision making was poor from start to finish. They went from challengers, to followers and were left wanting at the end.
One seriously has to question the captaincy of Steven Moore at this point. Like in the series against England, Moore made several silly decisions at the breakdown which cost his side penalties. The sides issues do not end in the forward pack though.
There has been a lot of talk about shifting Israel Folau into the Wallabies midfield. The lanky, powerful attacking weapon didn’t get enough ball to fully test the All Black back line in the first match. His impact is clear to everyone. Might playing Folau at No.12 then ensure that the All Blacks would have to keep enough numbers in the defensive line? Any gap left, Folau could run right through it.
All Blacks best team in the World
The problem is, however, that the All Blacks are already the best team in the world at keeping players out of the breakdown. They are the best because there is always enough cover in the defensive line. So where can the Wallabies target any weakness?
Perhaps, in the case of Folau, it is a contradiction to playing him in the midfield. He is one of their best options under the high ball. So shifting the ex-League player needs to be considered. Serious thought needs to go into where Folau plays to start the match–but he could always shift positions ‘midway through the game’.
Chieka faces a wider range of issues. He must replace Matt Giteau, who broke his ankle in Sydney. With Matt Toomua and Rob Horne also both out, the returning Quade Cooper has also been floated as a potential option in the jinxed Wallaby midfield. Cheika certainly has some decisions to make in the next 12 hours.
Wallaby Impact Players Need To Front In Wellington
On top of all those selection issues, let’s not forget that the Wallabies have to win the match this weekend. If they don’t, fans will no longer take this team seriously. That would make five losses in a row, all with the strongest possible Wallabies squads on the field.
What that sides needs is impact. There didn’t appear to be any leadership on the park Saturday, communication was poor, and ultimately, the Wallabies played with utterly no intensity in the first half. The match was virtually lost at 3-32 and the second 40 minutes did improve, yes. But the side walked off the park with heads hanging low.
This has to change, players need to front in Wellington or it will be more of the same.
Bledisloe Cup selections a fascinating prospect
“Main photo credit”