It’s Bledisloe Cup take two, this time coming from the other side of the Tasman sea in Wellington. Despite all the boys at Fox Sport’s efforts to ‘Take back Bledisloe’, it didn’t quite happen for the men in Green and Gold last weekend as they were dismantled by a second half blitz from a rampant Kiwi outfit. There is plenty of intrigue surrounding the repeat fixture this weekend as both teams have been forced to make a few injury-related changes with a smattering of debutants set to make their first appearances in the pressure-cooker environment of not only a test match, but a Bledisloe Cup match.
This weekend’s hosts will take plenty of confidence into the game, having already won away from home. They have made two injury-enforced changes to their starting line-up, the most high profile of which comes in the shape of Tom Taylor, the Crusaders’ utility back, who makes his debut at 10. He is selected ahead of the 10-cap out-and-out fly-half Colin Slade, who finds himself on the bench. Outside Taylor the partnership of Nonu and Smith was, as always seems to be the case in the All Black jersey, devastating last weekend and if the new 10 can get them into the game again the Aussies will have their work cut out. Richie McCaw, never far away from the headlines, will be hoping to shake off more of the rustiness that was evident at times in his play last weekend. Alongside him in the back-row Stephen Luatua was in fine form in his first run-on start. Their only other change is the installation of big Brodie Retallick in the engine room in the place of the injured Luke Romano.
Ewen McKenzie has largely kept the faith with the guys who couldn’t quite keep up with the All Blacks last weekend. One change forced by injury sees Brumbie Scott Fardy step in for the crocked Hugh McMeniman, but other than that the team is the same. Michael Hooper was hands down the best of their bad bunch last time out, and he will need to be bang on the money once again as Richie McCaw continues to feel his way back into the game after his sabbatical. Put simply, the Aussies need to be better at every facet of their game if they want to stand a chance of beating the team that has held such a stranglehold over them for several years now, away from home. It will not be easy.
All eyes on
Conrad Smith is, to borrow a well-used cliché, the glue that holds the Kiwi side together. Often seen as a safe player in the midfield, he has a deceptive turn of pace and his jinking run to the try line last weekend (no wonder he’s known as ‘Snake Hips’) proved how lethal a finisher he is. In fact, the trio of Smiths in the All Black backline all sparkled last weekend – if they do so again, Australia will find it very tough going at the best of times.
For Australia it is always so difficult to look past Will Genia. The man is a genius, but, one breathtaking length of the field try aside, he was unable to assert himself on the game last weekend as he might have liked to. He is possibly the one player that could enhance this New Zealand team, and as such – fairly or otherwise – a huge amount of responsibility falls upon his shoulders.
Key Battle: Tom Taylor v Matt Toomua
This is the one reason that the Australians might feel a bit more confident than they would have done normally. The Kiwis are down to their fourth choice fly-half, with Carter, Cruden and Barrett all sidelined. Taylor is a no doubt a decent player, but he is not in the league of those in front of him in the pecking order. Indeed, there has been widespread surprise that Steve Hansen did not go for the more safe option of Colin Slade, who has experienced this level of rugby before – not to mention playing at fly-half week in week out for his franchise. That said, he may well be paying the price for the woeful season experienced by the Highlanders. Matt Toomua opposite has just the one cap to his name – last weekend in the return fixture – in which he looked solid but unspectacular. It is a battle of two vastly inexperienced playmakers and game-runners – it will be fasciniating to see if they can conduct a flowing game, or if the experience of Cooper and Slade is brought on early.
Even with a fourth-choice fly-half you still fancy New Zealand to dominate this one. It is not that this is a bad Australian team – far from it – but the Kiwis are simply so good that it is impossible to see them losing in their own backyard. New Zealand by 19.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images