The All Blacks will be aiming to make a serious statement of intent when they face the Wallabies in Sydney this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
At the start of another Rugby Championship, the All Blacks can be installed as overwhelming favourites.
New Zealand teams mostly dominated Super Rugby once again this year – with the Crusaders emerging as eventual champions – while the All Blacks swept aside France in their June Test series.
The Wallabies will point to the fact that they emerged victorious the last time these two teams met, but by then the Bledisloe Cup was already wrapped up for the 16th successive year.
The All Blacks’ hunger for more trans-Tasman domination remains undiminished, and they have picked the strongest available side to head into battle this Saturday, while having the added motivation of playing for Sam Whitelock in what will be his 100th Test.
Stalwarts Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick, who missed the series against France in June, will add an additional steely edge to an explosive All Blacks forward pack that has the firepower to assert their ascendancy on Saturday.
This week, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has called on his troops to deliver a performance of clinical execution that sets the tone for the tournament ahead: ‘The Bledisloe means a lot to this team and we have the opportunity to show just how much on Saturday night,’ he commented.
The Wallabies have also looked to talk a good game, with flyhalf Bernard Foley suggesting that they are determined to produce a defensive masterclass in order to throw the free-scoring All Blacks off their game.
Indeed, it’s notable that in head-to-head clashes in last year’s Rugby Championship, the All Blacks averaged 18.5 clean breaks (to the Wallabies’ 11.5) and beat 33.5 defenders (to 21.7).
Of course, the Wallabies will be looking to David Pocock and Michael Hooper to wreak havoc at the breakdown and prevent the All Blacks from enjoying quick, clean ball, but there is no doubt that the visitors will be targeting these players when it comes to cleaning out at the rucks.
The scrappy Wallabies should be expected to at least put up a competitive performance in the early exchanges, but one wouldn’t imagine there will be any stopping the All Blacks when they execute their typical second-half surge.
Stats and facts
- Australia beat New Zealand in their most recent meeting in October last year. They’ve not won back-to-back matches against the All Blacks since 2000-01 when they beat them in three games on the trot.
- Since the British & Irish Lions visited in 2013, the All Blacks are the only other side to play the Wallabies at this Sydney venue. This will be the sixth clash between the sides here since that loss to the Lions.
- In their three Tests against France in June, the All Blacks scored 77 aggregate points in the second half of the matches, conceding just seven themselves and keeping the French scoreless in two of those games.
- New Zealand averaged 14.7 clean breaks per game during their June series against France, the most of any tier one team during the mid-year Tests, while the Wallabies averaged the fewest (four per game).
- Israel Folau has scored six tries in 15 games against New Zealand; just four players have crossed the whitewash against the All Blacks more often: Adam Ashley-Cooper (9), David Campese (8), Bryan Habana (8), Matt Burke (7).
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Jack Maddocks.
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith; 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuake, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images