WILL this be WIN #30 consecutively at home for the All Blacks …. and yet another Record !
The Bledisoe Cup won’t be going anywhere after Saturday, but that doesn’t make New Zealand playing Australia unimportant.
The All Blacks would be seething if a loss in a match such as this marked what is so far an unbeaten record in 2013.
A 9-0 record is something that no other team can boast of so far this year – particularly not the Wallabies – as New Zealand continue their march towards back-to-back World Cups in 2015.
To even be contemplating the All Blacks sealing global glory again two years out from the next global showpiece in England should seem fanciful, but it doesn’t.
Even in a game as mind-blowing and energy-sapping as the one at Ellis Park a fortnight ago, the All Blacks still won by some distance.
Whereas much of South Africa’s play felt physical and frantic, New Zealand at times seemed to be merely floating through what many agreed was the best Test of the year, if not in this decade so far. And they won by 11 points.
It means that in the last two years over the course of 21 matches, New Zealand have lost just once – inexplicably to England at Twickenham last December.
Facets of their play are not perfect. Marcos Ayerza and Juan Figallo were already held in high regard, but have emerged out of The Rugby Championship as world-class for the way they harried and bullied Tony Woodcock and Owen Franks.
Seeing the All Blacks give away so many penalties at the set-piece is surprising and an area to work on, but the rest of their good work makes up for it.
No other side in world rugby could handle their top three picks at fly-half in Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett being lost to injury, yet Tom Taylor played superbly when called upon. Barrett impressed so much in his time on the pitch, including scoring the decisive try against the Springboks in Johannesburg, that he made our team of the tournament.
The reason to watch the All Blacks in Dunedin is not just because of how well they have performed over recent months, but to see how new selections and combinations work.
Ben Smith’s move from right wing to outside centre comes as Conrad Smith takes a well-earned holiday, partnering the Highlander with Ma’a Nonu.
Along with Kieran Read, Ben Smith has been the outstanding player in world rugby this year and his eight tries in The Rugby Championship set a new record for the tournament. Seeing him given more ball to work with in midfield will be intriguing.
Up-front Charlie Faumuina and Jeremy Thrush have been forced to bide their time amongst the replacements but now get a chance to impress.
Make no mistake though; the world champions mean business.
What the Wallabies will produce on Saturday is anyone’s guess. Their losing run under Ewen McKenzie was brought to an impressive conclusion in Rosario when they hammered Argentina 54-17 – in the process giving Felipe Contepomi the worst possible send-off.
A rough season for Australia was underlined off the pitch this week following the announcement of severe off-field losses in revenue over the last two years at $19 million.
The fiasco involving James O’Connor and key injuries to David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham, seemingly every winger in Australia and now Christian Lealiifano have compounded McKenzie’s best efforts to bed in a new culture.
That is not to suggest that the Wallabies have been short of positives. Israel Folau always had the potential to be a star in Rugby Union, but the speed at which he has ascended from making his debut for the Waratahs to becoming Australia’s key attacking force has been impressive.
His total of seven tries in his first nine games, including a hat-trick inside 42 minutes against Argentina, is highly impressive.
Folau’s emergence in Union has also been timely. In a year where James O’Connor has gone from playing fly-half against the British and Irish Lions to the wilderness of being without a contract for this year or the next, the Wallabies have needed a star. Considering Kurtley Beale’s up-and-down year and the gradual re-emergence of Quade Cooper into Test rugby, that need was desperate and Folau has fulfilled it.
Getting McKenzie’s message across will come only with time and Australia are already better off than in the sombre environment that was their press conference at Newlands last month, after being so comprehensively beaten in Cape Town.
Injuries to a freakish number of wingers will not stop their sense of adventure against New Zealand – because after all, what is there left to lose?
A great performance, not necessarily a win, will stand the Wallabies in good stead for when they fly to Europe. Australia are a good side and just as they did against Argentina, they need to prove it in Dunedin.
Ones to watch:
For New Zealand: The late loss of Richie McCaw deprives this fixture of it’s record try scorer, so we’ve turned our attention to Charles Piutau. A late call-up following the loss of Cory Jane, the Blues flyer was a menace in Super Rugby – making the most clean breaks with 24 and beating the most defenders with 60. Australia will have to be on their toes.
For Australia: Not to pile the pressure on Matt Toomua, but Lealiifano has been excellent for the Wallabies all season at inside centre – as much for his goalkicking as his distribution. Another Brumbie, Toomua has plenty of talent and started both matches against the All Blacks earlier this year at fly-half. Hardly short of pace, the 23-year-old will face a stern defensive test opposite Ma’a Nonu.
Head-to-head: Injury to Scott Fardy at blindside flanker for the Wallabies means that Kieran Read will line up opposite Ben McCalman. Read’s status as the world’s premier number eight remains secure, despite an impressive tournament for Duane Vermeulen. But the Crusader is just outstanding at every facet of Test rugby. His leadership against the Springboks amidst the chaos of Bismarck du Plessis’ sending off and away in Argentina gave the world a glimpse of life after McCaw for the All Blacks. 25-year-old McCalman though is no rookie with 26 caps – a physical handful at 6ft 3 inches and 17 stone. The Wallabies have lacked the necessary punch from their first and second runners in recent games, which he will help.
2013: New Zealand won 27-16 in Wellington
2013: New Zealand won 47-29 in Sydney
2012: 18-18 in Brisbane
2012: New Zealand won 22-0 in Auckland
2012: New Zealand won 27-19 in Sydney
2011: New Zealand won 20-6 in Auckland
2011: Australia won 25-20 in Brisbane
2011: New Zealand won 30-14 in Auckland
2010: Australia won 26-24 in Hong Kong
2010: New Zealand won 23-22 in Sydney
2010: New Zealand won 20-10 in Christchurch
2010: New Zealand won 49-28 in Melbourne
2009: New Zealand won 32-19 in Tokyo
Prediction: It’s hard to see the All Blacks slipping up at home, but given the late withdrawals of McCaw and Jane and the move of Ben Smith to centre might disrupt their fluidity a touch. This should be comfortable though.
New Zealand to win by 15.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Tom Taylor.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (capt), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Nic White, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Bernard Foley.
Date: Saturday, October 19
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)