If the Wallabies had the choice of picking three players to remove from the All Blacks to increase their own chances of winning, they’d pick Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga.
The news that the trio will miss the Test in Perth on Sunday week has delivered an extravagantly wrapped gift into the lap of the Wallabies, who were always going to be a reasonable chance of winning a fixture that already looked custom-made for delivering a below-par All Blacks performance.
Whenever the All Blacks have looked vulnerable over the past decade, it is almost invariably after beating the Wallabies handsomely – witness the 40-point ‘swing’ last year when the Wallabies were thumped in Sydney but deserved winners in Brisbane one week later.
However, there is an obvious area where the Wallabies simply have to improve after delivering a nightmarish stat in the first two Bledisloe Tests: in the third quarter of those Tests, the Wallabies scored zero points and conceded 34.
That ‘one-way’ traffic on the scoreboard in the 40 minute to 60 minute periods of Bledisloe I and Bledisloe II will be a matter of extreme disappointment for the Wallabies coaches because both games have essentially been over as contests by the hour mark.
In fact, the Wallabies should probably count themselves a little lucky that the boardroom battles between Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby have spared them from the level of scrutiny their performances deserved, particularly after conceding a record 57 points at Eden Park last month.
The Perth Bledisloe Test looks like a golden opportunity for Noah Lolesio and the Wallabies.Credit:Getty
That 34-0 third-quarter scoreline isn’t down to a particular factor, or decision. However, it does point to the fact that the Wallabies can not yet play with the same sort of intensity for the same length of time as the All Blacks.
I’d suggest not many teams could, even the Springboks. However, South Africa don’t even attempt to do that, and try to impose a different tactical template – and tempo – on the opponents they face.
The Wallabies, broadly speaking, play in a similar way to the All Blacks: they want the game to be fast, with a high skill level, to bring their explosive and dynamic players into the game. The problem is, the All Blacks do it a bit better at the moment, and even ‘losing’ 15-20 minutes of the game means the Wallabies can go from being in the contest to a scoreboard hammering in quick order.
The ray of light for the Wallabies is that they will feel that matching the All Blacks’ intensity levels across the 80 minutes is, in fact, attainable given enough exposure to it. In fact, this is the whole high-performance philosophy behind coaches and players’ desire to be part of a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, even though Super Rugby AU was Australian rugby’s best feelgood story for years.
Dave Rennie considers Richie Mo’unga the world’s best playmaker.Credit:Getty
That job in Perth will be made significantly easier by the absence of Whitelock, Mo’unga and Smith.
In describing Mo’unga as the world’s best No.10 earlier this year, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was in some ways giving voice to the fact that Australian rugby, collectively, haven’t worked out the Crusader.
He has punished the Wallabies several times in recent years, and when the Cantabrians played the Reds in Brisbane in May – arguably the only game the Crusaders really got up for in Super Rugby Trans Tasman – he tore the Super Rugby AU champions to pieces.
Smith provides the pace for the All Blacks attack with his crisp distribution, while Whitelock has been the standout second-rower in the first two Bledisloe Tests by a reasonable distance.
As a trio, the Wallabies will be glad to see the back of them and without disrespecting their replacements – Beauden Barrett among them – there wouldn’t be too much disagreement that the All Blacks have lost their three most influential players.
The build-up to the Test, therefore, points to a Wallabies performance that is, at the minimum, highly competitive.
Perth is an opportunity to gain the respect that Rugby Australia craves by the only measure that really counts – beating the All Blacks.
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