By Roger Childs
Bledisloe Cup on the line
The All Blacks got an unexpected hiding last Saturday and have to win tonight to retain the trophy they have held for seventeen years. The Wallabies outplayed the visitors in Perth, admittedly helped by the red carding of Scott Barrett. However, they probably would have won anyway as they were the superior side in the first half when both teams had 15 players.
So it’s all on at Eden Park and the Wallabies with a win or draw will take the Cup. The All Blacks haven’t lost a test on the hallowed turf in Auckland since the 1990s and will be desperate to keep that record intact. Not surprisingly, the selectors have made changes to the starting fifteen and the bench, with Ben Smith, Reiko Ioane and Owen Franks being dropped.
A winning combination?
The All Black team is a very good one. There is real excitement on the wings in George Bridge and Sevu Reece as they are players who are not only fast and enterprising, but are always looking for work. Sonny Bill Williams at second five needs to front up with strong tackling and good feeds to his outsides. He must show that he is worth taking to Japan and a couple of off-loads won’t do it.
The forward pack has to front up from the start and gain the initiative – Sam Cane for one needs a much improved performance on last week. Patrick Tuipulotu replaces the disgraced Scott Barrett at lock and will partner evergreen Sam Whitelock. His 120 kg in the tight five at scrum and maul time will hopefully help the All Blacks to gain at least parity and hopefully the ascendancy in the forwards.
Richie Mo’hunga is still learning the trade at first five at the international level, but gets another chance in the key backline position and will no doubt take the goal kicks. The home side has a very strong bench which has been a hallmark of All Back teams in recent years. These players should be jumping out of their skin when they come on in the second half. Good to see Jordie Barrett there – he has done some idiotic things in the past like the stupid quick throw-in against the Springboks last year which led to a try by du Preez, however he combines well with his brother and is a potential match winner.
A side good enough to win the Cup?
It should be, as there will no lack of motivation to avenge last week’s embarrassing defeat, in front of the sell-out home crowd. However, the Wallabies will be highly motivated knowing that the All Blacks are beatable.
For the home side discipline is crucial, as aside from the red card there were too many dumb penalties given away last week. They also need to have 15 players on the field throughout as a red or yellow card immediately put the opposition at an advantage. Back in the World Cup final four years ago, the yellow carding of Ben Smith resulted in 14 points to Australia in ten minutes and only a brilliant solo try by Ma’a Nonu sealed the match for the All Blacks.
If the Wallabies do win tonight against the strong New Zealand side they will thoroughly deserve the Bledisloe Cup.