For a Wallaby supporter this is a vicious tease of a match. Standing defiantly is the wily 23 year old Eden Park minx, and laid out like a string of Bacardi Breezers before her is the key to melting this ice maidens defences.
It’s only fitting that the French and Italians – ‘masters of seduction’ – gave facets of the gameplan a trial run.
What the Ities demonstrated is just how uncomfortable the ABs look chasing the ball in their own half, especially the back 3. Acknowledging it, the New Zealanders have drafted in another fullback – Corey Jane to shore things up. With the All Blacks infamous (at least around my armchair) for giving away penalties rather than continuity, should the Wallabies attain such field position, a steady flow of points with the odd yellow card will follow. Australia also has a try scoring strike capability that the Italians sorely missed.
No prizes then for appreciating just how important the cultured left/right foot combination of Giteau and Barnes will be to pin the Blackness back into their 22. This combo was deadly against the BaaBaas and Italians, but suspect when it came to the better organised French. The time and space to execute the “check-side” punts that cause Marto to auto-ejaculate therefore depend on the quality of ball that’s delivered by the pack.
This is how the French bulldozed their way into Miss Dunedin’s frosty knickers; winning the battle of the breakdown and the advantage-line nearby. For the Wallabies however, this is still a sore point that they openly admit, and it won’t be lost on the Kiwis. After McCaw has cheated is arse off at the tackle, the rest of them will flood and flop over every ruck they can find, searching for turnovers, or at least to to force those 9ft high passes from Burgess to Barnes and Giteau.
Simply put, if the Wallabies want to bang the prom-queen, they have to man up at the breakdown.
Much has been made of the 3 open-sides Dingo’s selected in the 22. Rather than a high risk tactical experiment, I believe it’s more a case of him picking the best back-row talent at his disposal, rather than lesser ‘conventional’ specialists. Had Rocky been fit, he would have no doubt been starting. As it is, we’ll probably see an experiment that just could pay off. Assuming McCaw doesn’t make the full 80, there could be three high class Wallaby fetchers pressurising breakdowns during a crucial period of the match, virtually unopposed.
That’s the method for how the Green and Gold could do it, but what of the consequences should they succeed or fail in breaking the drought? For the first match in a tournament away from home, I believe they’re unusually high. So much of the AntipoDeans mantra is about “Belief” and “Growth”. These players have known for 12 months now what Robbie wants, and should they take a convincing defeat on Saturday, these two buzzwords will be look pretty hollow, and remain as a question mark regardless of what comes through the rest of the year.
However, should by any margin or style the Wallabies win, then this will be a sea change in trans-Tasman rugby and the strongest possible endorsement that a new Australian rugby era is dawning. My sense is that both sides know this, and we could well be in for a classic Bledisloe.
Gagger says: How much is wishful thinking, and how much rational belief in a more complete Wallabies offering? Wallabies by 3
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Ma’a Nonu; Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan; Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino; Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn; Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Jason Eaton, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Luke McAlister, Joe Rokocoko.
Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper; Lachie Turner, Stirling Mortlock, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell; Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess; Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Richard Brown; Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill; Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Ben Alexander, Dean Mumm, Phil Waugh, David Pocock, Will Genia, James O’Connor.