Rivals against rivals, neighbours against neighbours – regardless of the dominance New Zealand has held over Australia in recent years, every Bledisloe Cup match is looked upon with anticipation. It’s been well documented that the Wallabies have not secured the series in over 15 years – there have been wins here and there throughout that period but it takes consistency to wrestle the Bledisloe off the holders – but no doubt every match the Wallabies players go into they know that they have the class and the firepower to come out triumphant.
This year, more so than recent seasons, the Wallabies have a settled squad and are running hot in the form department – their series victory over England is a testament to that. Across their squad, in fact, they have the men to seriously challenge the All Blacks in almost every facet of the game.
Once considered a dire weakness of the side, the Wallabies scrum has improved significantly to the point where it’s now one of their greater strengths. That’s not to suggest that the Australian front row is a one trick pony, however, they’ve got some potent ball runners in the form of Taniela Tupou and Sekope Kepu. In fact, in open play their front-row possibly possess more of a threat than what the All Blacks have on offer – though Codie Taylor may have something to say about that.
The biggest concern for All Blacks fans will be the discipline of their props – with both Joe Moody and Owen Franks spending plenty of time away from the game in recent times due to bans. Although there has been the odd blowout in recent years, the match in Sydney looks like it will be a closer affair – so penalties and yellow cards will be exceptionally costly. If New Zealand can’t keep their discipline in check, there are plenty of kickers in the Wallabies who will be able to take advantage.
The All Blacks have, unquestionably, one of the most balanced backrows in world rugby. Between Liam Squire, Sam Cane and Kieran Read, New Zealand have ball carriers, ball winners and playmakers aplenty. The Wallabies don’t boast quite as much balance in their loose forwards – but there’s one key area where they obviously stand out above other teams around the world.
With both David Pocock and Michael Hooper on the field, the Wallabies have two of the best fetchers available to disrupt All Blacks ball – whenever a team plays the Wallabies one of the biggest challenges is trying to nullify the threat of the ‘Pooper’ combination. Of course, the Wallabies do give up a bit of bulk in the loose forwards due to using the dual openside tactic – not to mention some height in the lineout – but if the All Blacks are starved of any ball then this will be of little concern to the Wallabies.
Since his return to Super Rugby this year, Will Genia has reminded everyone in the southern hemisphere that he’s lost none of the speed, sleight of hand or tactical awareness that made him one of the best halfbacks in the world before his departure in 2015.
Unsurprisingly, the Wallabies played by far their best rugby in their June series when Genia was on the field, and his absence in the third test coincided with a bad defeat for Australia.
The All Blacks will, unsurprisingly, trot out Aaron Smith in the 9 jersey. Barring a drop off in form at the end of 2016, Smith has been the clear-cut starting halfback for New Zealand since he burst onto the scene in 2012. Like Genia, his quick delivery offers a huge advantage when his team is on the attack – even if the opposition are given only half a second less to set their defence. The bench is where the All Blacks have the biggest advantage, with TJ Perenara a significantly more useful impact player than Nick Phipps.
Advantage: All Blacks
Beale is an experienced campaigner now, with over 70 caps under his belt for the Wallabies after first being selected nine years ago. His attacking prowess is menacing but the maturity and sensibility he’s added to his arsenal as a seasoned hand will be invaluable with the relative newcomer Hodge outside him.
Hodge himself is no slouch either and although he’s more a sure bet than a Hail Mary kind of player, his ability to straighten play shouldn’t be underestimated. The Beale-Hodge combination was slick in the Wallabies’ hit-out against the Super Rugby selection last week but how they stand up against the more seasoned professionals in the All Blacks ranks will be a true litmus test.
The Wallabies’ opposition, Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue, are both experienced Super Rugby campaigners but still lack some testing in the international arena – Goodhue in particular. Regardless, the two have forged an impressive combination at the Crusaders over the better part of two years and will hope that this will translate to the international stage. Both players have reliable passes and tend to focus more on getting the ball to the dangerous outside backs at their disposal instead of looking to do it all themselves.
Speaking of dangerous outside backs, the wingers that both teams have on show all have the ability to break the game open and we will no doubt see some tries scored in the wider channels. The All Blacks have opted for a pair of out-and-out wingers in Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo who have collectively scored 26 tries in 35 appearances in the black jersey.
They’ll be facing off against at least one power winger in the form of Marika Koroibete, a man whose pace is complemented by his large frame. On the other wing, Dane Haylett-Petty will showcase his wide skill-set. Curiously, the All Blacks have erred away from the usual fullback-cum-wing that they normally plant on the right side of the field – but the Wallabies have adopted this tactic with great results in recent times.
At fullback, arguably the two best 15s in the world will oppose each other – Ben Smith and Israel Folau.
Advantage: All Blacks
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