Sunday’s Bledisloe Cup opener arrives without the traditional preamble of a Super Rugby campaign where Australian sides regularly do battle with their trans-Tasman rivals.
And with both the Wallabies and All Blacks having not played international rugby in what feels like forever, there’s a sense of great uncertainty and unpredictability as they prepare to renew battle.
But that hasn’t stopped the New Zealanders from predicting “a comfortable win”, according to one journalist.
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Steve Hepburn wrote in the Otago Daily Times: “The Wallabies have a new coach and they have some promising players in their ranks.”
Well, that much we can agree with!
Michael Hooper will lead the Wallabies again.Source:Getty Images
“But,” he continued, “the reality is the Australians have lost plenty of talent and even that was not overly good. The second row is average and the front row is questionable. There is no clear general at first five-eighth and not a lot of strikepower out wide.”
On paper, the Wallabies have lost some top names since the 2019 Rugby World Cup. But Sunday will provide a perfect opportunity for the Wallabies to prove their mettle – especially the trio of debutants in Rennie’s first XV in charge of Australia.
Hepburn continued: “There will be rust from the All Blacks for sure and plenty of ball will be spilt but it looks like a comfortable win for the home team.”
Rust will certainly be a factor, but the All Blacks may have more of an issue with it than the Aussies. Super Rugby Aoteoroa ended on 15 August, while Super Rugby AU concluded with the final on 19 September, so we could see a more fit and ready Aussie side come Sunday.
But even some Australian journalists are concerned over the impact separate Super Rugby competitions could have on the Bledisloe.
Bret Harris wrote in The Guardian: “The Wallabies players, particularly the Brumbies, Reds and Melbourne Rebels, gained a lot of confidence from playing in “successful” teams in Super Rugby AU, but there is also a danger they are deluding themselves about the standard of the competition. The Wallabies may be in for a very rude awakening.”
It’s a sight we’ve become all too familiar with in the last twenty years.Source:Getty Images
Meanwhile, there’s been plenty of debate over Ian Foster’s All Blacks side.
Patrick McKendry wrote in the NZ Herald that: “If the squad tells us anything, it’s that Foster won’t have any problem moving away from the status quo.”
There are three debutants on the bench, but the most controversial decision is undoubtedly selecting Beauden Barrett at fullback and brother Jordie on the right wing, despite Jordie being the form fullback of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Even Aussie coach Dave Rennie was surprised by that decision: “It’s a hell of a side isn’t it? And pretty predictable.
“The only guy that I didn’t have in there was Jordie Barrett on the wing.
“I thought Anton Lienert-Brown would be at 12, maybe move (Jack) Goodhue out and have Rieko (Ioane) on the wing. But Jordie has been in such great form and they needed to find a spot for him.”
Rieko Ioane is a bold selection at centre.Source:AFP
The decision to have Ioane play centre completes a year-long transition from the wing – which surprised even his own coach.
“I’m excited by it, but let’s be frank I’ve always said he is a wing that can play centre but we didn’t know how quick it was going to be, and he has done well,” Foster said.
“He has worked really well throughout the Blues campaign, he’s been committed to it and has put forward such a compelling case that it has changed our mind.”
Nevertheless, he hasn’t been tested at the international level in that position yet. And some in the NZ media are concerned over his selection, despite starring for the Blues in that position through the Super Rugby season.
Gregor Paul wrote in the NZ Herald that: “He was the form centre in Super Rugby Aotearoa and yet, it still feels like the All Blacks are taking a risk to pick him there to play the Wallabies.
“For all that he’s impressed and earned the right to wear No 13, there remains this undeniable sense that this isn’t going to be permanent and may even yet still end up being written off as a worthy but ill-timed experiment.”
Perhaps. But it seems more like wishful thinking for the Wallabies that he’ll struggle at a position where has been arguably the best player in the world in 2020.
As Paul wrote, “he played well at centre, showed poise and patience and an ability to sense space both on attack and defence.”
Jordie Barrett missed out on his preferred 15 jumper.Source:AFP
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Rennie had this to say about the All Blacks side: “There’s not a lot of weaknesses there.
“As I mentioned, we’re going to have to defend really well and for long passages. We need to be really aggressive to try and force them to kick or to try and turn over some pill.
“Then it’s about the quality of our decision-making and the quality of our skillset under pressure is going to be important. We certainly want to play but we’ve got a plan. To beat a side like this we’re going to have to play really well.”
Originally published asCocky Kiwis predict ‘comfortable win’
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