AUCKLAND, NZ – All Black coach Steve Hansen’s most famous quote in his tenure has undoubtedly was back when he was assistant to Graham Henry. After an excruciatingly dull 20-6 victory over Italy in 2009 he remarked: ‘Let’s flush the dunny and move on’. For those of you unfamiliar with the sometimes confusing lexicon of the South Pacific, ‘dunny’ is another word we use for toilet, so while Hansen’s comment referred to that awful test match back then, it certainly remains very pertinent this week. Yes, that stinking turd of first round definitely deserves to be flushed to oblivion and hopefully we can see some more of the type of rugby that The Rugby Championship is more well known for. This weekend sees the return matches, with the All Blacks facing the Wallabies and the Springboks taking on Los Pumas, but with home ground advantage being reversed this time around.
The action starts on Saturday night right here in Auckland, where the both the All Blacks and Wallabies will be desperate to make up for the forgettable draw last week when they clash at Eden Park. #NZLvAUS
Before we look at that game, here’s some historical notes about this long-standing fixture:
As I said, this game is being played at Eden Park, which is bad news for the Wallabies. In fact, it’s bad news for anyone as the All Blacks haven’t lost there in 20 years. They haven’t lost to the Wallabies there since 1986, meaning a great deal of both squads wouldn’t have even been born when that occurred. Since that 22-9 victory 28 years ago, Eden Park has essentially been completely rebuilt.
However, it hasn’t always been this bleak for Australia at Eden Park, indeed one of their most famous victories happened there back in 1978. Their 30-16 victory was nothing short of a nuclear explosion to the mindset of NZ fans, especially as it was the highest score conceded by the All Blacks up until that point. More notably, Wallaby number 8 Greg Cornelson’s remarkable four try performance has never been matched before or since by a player against the All Blacks. However, as you can see here, this game really shows far the game has come since that time (long sleeved jerseys, shambolic line outs, handshakes all round after a try).
Last week’s draw was a pretty rare occurrence between the two teams, there’s only been six in the 150 tests played between the All Blacks and Wallabies. Apart from the last in 2012, which ended 18-all, you’ll have to go back to 1988 to find the next most recent. This match is notable as it broke up what would have been an incredible run by the All Blacks at the time. Between 1987-90 the All Blacks didn’t lose, an unbeaten streak of 50 matches. Had they won that drawn match in Brisbane in ’88, the current test winning streak record may well be 22 by that All Black side, rather than the 18 it is now, shared by the 1965-69 All Blacks, 2012-2014 All Blacks and 1997-98 Springboks.
So will the Wallabies be able to bury their Eden Park hoodoo? One man who will be desperately hoping they won’t and will be doing everything he can to stop them is All Black second five Ryan Crotty, who gets his first test start due to an injury to Ma’a Nonu. Crotty was one of the standout performers of the Crusaders impressive Super Rugby season and was handed the captaincy in Richie McCaw’s absence. The highlight of his brief career so far would be scoring the winning try in the All Blacks great escape in Dublin on last year’s tour that ultimately preserved their 100% season. He takes his place in the team alongside:
All Blacks starting XV: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa
The other major change sees Chiefs captain Liam Messam come in as a straight swap for the injured Jerome Kaino. Nonu and Kaino being out could have a potentially big impact on the way this team plays as they have two of the highest work rates when it comes to possession, so look for Kieran Read to handle the ball more around the ruck and Julian Savea to come off his wing to do the mid-field crashes. Of note is that it’s the 50th test for popular winger Cory Jane, who will be hoping to make up for a completely anonymous performance last week in Sydney.
Meanwhile, the Wallabies have named an identical lineup for this weekend’s match:
Wallabies starting XV: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 James Slipper.
Bench: 16 James Hanson, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Tevita Kuridrani
Given Kurtley Beale’s questionable performance last week it’s again strange to see him pull on the first five jersey. One look at the body language of Bernard Foley while he sat on the bench gave no illusions whatsoever that he’s desperate to get a start, so if things start going pear-shaped for the Wallabies I would predict Foley will be injected probably a bit sooner than most substitutions.
This test will be (predictably) won up front and it’s there the All Blacks have the advantage. Taking away the unfortunate penalty generating aspect of Wyatt Crockett’s game, the home side have a more powerful front row and the set piece was one area where they slightly shaded the Wallabies last week. The strange decision to substitute Dane Coles early in the second half last week proved to be costly as the line out fell to bits, look for a longer stay on the field for him. The Wallabies will be desperate to involve their back three a lot more than the last test, especially Israel Folau, who was barely sighted other than in the first few minutes. If the visitors can get a decent amount of ball they’ll surely try and target a relatively smaller All Black back line, although they should be wary of overplaying this hand due to the home side’s lethal ability to use quick turnover ball.
Unfortunately, one of the most important performances will be that of referee Roman Poite. If he has anywhere near as much of a shocker as Jaco Peyper last week, he’ll probably need a police escort out of Eden Park. Let’s hope he can let the game flow.
Prediction: The All Blacks may have been woeful last week, but their high standards mean that will most likely be a one-off. The Eden Park factor has become a pretty strong part of the All Black mystique of late and should get them in the right head space to get back on winning ways. All Blacks by 10.
Man to watch: All Black flanker Liam Messam has some pretty big boots to fill this week. His ball-skills can bring about an X-factor to this team and don’t discount his exceptional pace for a big man.
Over in the grandly named Padre Ernesto Martearena Stadium in Salta, Los Pumas of Argentina host the Springboks in the other match of the round. #ARGvRSA
Here it is ladies and gents, most definitely Argentina’s best chance to get off the mark in their short but so far unsuccessful Rugby Championship history. The Springboks were awful last week and unless they’ve revolutionised their game plan over the last seven days I can’t see them getting much better. Los Pumas, on the other hand, didn’t surprise anyone by keeping it tight and boring in their narrow loss and will be fired up to perform in front of their home crowd.
Los Pumas starting XV: 15 JoaquÌn Tuculet, 14 Lucas Gonz·lez Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan MartÌn Hernandez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicol·s S·nchez, 9 MartÌn Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamun, 7 Juan MartÌn Fern·ndez Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tom·s Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 AgustÌn Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Bench: 16 MatÌas Cortese, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 MatÌas Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tom·s Cubelli, 22 Jerunimo de la Fuente, 23 Horacio Agulla.
Springbok starting XV: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
If the Pumas are to pull this one off, they’ll need to spread the ball early, score a couple of quick tries then revert to type and shut the game down by rumbling up through their forwards. The Boks back three do have the capability to punish any wayward kicking, so Manuel Montero and Juan Martin Hernandez should be wary of trying to plug the corners too often.
Prediction: Dare I say it? Yes, I think Los Pumas will take this one out. It might not be pretty for most of the game, but a couple of key moments will swing this one. Plus they have Steve ‘The Crowd Is All Cheering For Me’ Walsh controlling the game, so the louder the home fans are, the better chance they’ll have. Los Pumas by 1.
Man to watch: Four years out of international rugby is an absolute lifetime these days, but Juan Smith has managed to resurrect his Springbok career in unlikely circumstances. Is it a crisis that the Springboks have to call up players from overseas rugby to fill their ranks?
In all honesty, anything would be better than last week’s crapfest, so let’s hope all four teams turn it on and play the sort of footy that we know they can. I’ll be lucky enough to be at the All Blacks/Wallabies game tomorrow night and the weather is looking a lot better than it was last week, so there’s a good sign. Enjoy the footy wherever you may be and I’ll have a full recap as soon as I get over my hangover from Saturday night.
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