AUCKLAND, NZ – The third Bledisloe Cup game sees the Wallabies going into a match with more than a bit to play for, given they’ve just had a week from hell off the pitch. What is this going to mean for the All Blacks, given their recent loss to the Springboks? They rarely play two bad games in a row and, even then, they were a kick away from victory at Ellis Park. Are we about to see a bloodbath in Brisbane? Before we look at that, let’s find out what’s been troubling the Wallabies in the weekly…
When it emerged about Kurtley Beale getting excluded from the Wallabies squad because of an altercation on a flight with a team staff member, it was obvious there was far more to it. The wider story came out this week and unfortunately cast a bad light on not just Beale, but the Wallabies team culture and coach. While the more salacious details have gone to print for all to see in the embarrassing light of day, this incident says far more about an environment where this sort of thing is commonplace. Remember, not long ago 2014 looked like the new dawn of Australian rugby. The Tahs had triumphed in Super Rugby and led the charge in a very positive showing from most of their teams. A solid 3-0 test series victory over France led into an encouraging draw with the mighty All Blacks. Then it all started to fall apart as soon as the ref blew for the kick-off at Eden Park. 80 minutes later they were dealing with a 31-point hiding and things have steadily gone from bad to worse, culminating with the Beale debacle and a first-ever test loss to Argentina. The lesson to be learned here is that culture starts from the top down and you can never be too paranoid about protecting standards in an elite unit.
Just to show that foolishness isn’t just confined to the Wallabies, Australian rugby referees have got in on the act this week two. In the NRC match between the North Harbour Rays and Sydney Stars ref Ian Smith called for assistance after the ball was grounded over the Rays goal line. Replays clearly showed Rays prop Mitch Lewis stealing the ball and placing it back for his halfback to clear, however the TMO (who must have been either blind or blind drunk) awarded a try. The hilarious footage has provided more than a few laughs around the rugby world in the past few days.
One bright spot for the poor old Aussies is that one of their stand-out players of the last decade will celebrate his 100th test match against the All Blacks. Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has made himself more than useful at centre or wing for the Wallabies, reaches the milestone in a fixture in which he has played some of his best rugby. He is a highly respected player in this part of the world and it was great to see him playing a huge role in the Waratahs Super Rugby final victory with two tries. Well done AAC!
Match Preview #AUSvNZL
There’s first five dramas for both teams heading into the match at Brisbane’s imposing Suncorp Stadium. With Beale still serving his (probably indefinite) exile from the test side, another controversial player has had an international reprieve. Quade Cooper, the target of so much derision on this side of the Tasman, makes it back on to the bench for the Wallabies in his adopted hometown. The kiwi-born playmaker will most likely come off the bench in the second half. Other than that it’s an essentially unchanged lineup for the team that limply lost in Buenos Aires. The full team is:
Wallabies: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali’ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Bench: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Matt Hodgson, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Rob Horne.
All Black first five Beauden Barrett has been under an injury cloud all week, however hasn’t been ruled out and probably will be left on the team sheet until kick off. His potential absence could mean a very lucky reprieve for Aaron Cruden, whose career was suddenly looking very shaky after getting drunk and missing the flight to Argentina a few weeks back. Also on the flight over is one Mr. Daniel Carter, whom some of may have heard of in the past. While the legendary All Black all-time record points scorer will probably not feature in this match, it’s a clear sign that he most definitely hasn’t been forgotten about and will be on the plane to the US and UK in a couple of weeks. Also back in the starting lineup is lock Brodie Rettalick, who missed the last test at Ellis Park and left a sizable gap in the All Blacks forward pack. Another change sees Ben Smith get a rest and Cory Jane start on the right wing, bringing Charles Piutau onto the bench. The full team is:
All Blacks: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 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 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Charles Piutau
Motivation comes in two very different forms for both teams in this test, will the scandal-hit Wallabies rally around one of their strongest leaders to make sure he has a 100th test to remember? Or will they tank to send a message to their under-fire coach like they were rumored to have done to Robbie Deans last season in their series loss to the Lions? One thing is for sure, the All Blacks will be desperate to get back in the winner’s column after their first loss in almost two years.
If Barrett does play, expect to see him turn the Wallabies around with kicks to the corner. They have effectively dealt with the threat that Israel Folau poses (although with a few glimpses of his potential in the Eden Park test) and will be confident in their defensive systems if he is given the opportunity to counter attack. Israel Dagg, Jane and Julian Savea will most definitely be running back any ball kicked their way, so Bernard Foley should make sure he’s putting the ball into the stands when tries to find touch. Set piece should be even, the Wallabies will be relying on Rob Simmons to control the line out while Owen Franks suddenly finds himself under a bit of pressure for his starting spot from a fit again Charlie Faumuina. Franks will look to impose himself in the scrum and this could mean a tough day for the already short-handed Wallaby front row.
Prediction: While it would be nice to think the Wallabies will be up for this one, their last result and off-field dramas all point to a heavy defeat on home soil. Also, they’re playing a very rare side lately in an All Black outfit hurting after coming off a loss. All Blacks by 20.
Man to watch: Liam Messam rejoins the side at the expense of Jerome Kaino, who’s being rested. Both very different players, it’ll be interesting to see his finesse again in a starting jersey after Kaino’s power game has become an integral part of the All Black game plan.
Just a reminder, the Bledisloe Cup is actually not on the line in this game, the earlier draw and All Black victory means that it’ll stay in New Zealand for the summer no matter what the result tonight.
A final thought regarding Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie and the very real possibility of him having to look in the ‘situations vacant’ section of the newspaper in November. He’s had the ‘public backing’ of the ARU broadcast to anyone that will care to listen, which is most likely a codeword for his head being on the chopping block. The two main candidates for his replacement are Michael Cheika of the Waratahs and Jake White, the former Springbok World Cup winning coach who surprisingly ended his tenure with the Sharks after only one Super Rugby season.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.