Many Australasians will have us believe this is a prelude to the final of the World Cup to be played at this ground. By picking what appears to be their best starting line-ups, coaches Deans and Henry will be lifting their skirts just high enough for the rest of the world to see what can be expected of them at RWC 2011. A preview of the likely Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations decider by STYLI CHARALAMBOUS.
Australian Rugby Union Football fans will be talking up the chances of their team accomplishing what no other international team has done at Auckland’s Eden Park in 17 years, beating the All Blacks. Ellis Park, as a fortress for the Boks, pales in comparison to how tough it is to beat the ABs at this stadium. But this Aussie team has some rising stars in its ranks that don’t really care what the history books have to say and would rather let their boots do the talking on the park.
In Kurtley Beale, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and David Pocock, the Wallabies have some of the most exciting players on the planet, each of whom alone could turn the tide of a Test match. Combined, they are capable of forming the basis of a winning performance against any team in the world. And if they are to do so against the planet’s premier team on Saturday, they will need each to be firing on all cylinders.
While the Aussie team is filled with the exuberance of youth and excitement, the All Blacks will take to the field with the oldest starting New Zealand team ever to perform the haka against an international opponent. The combined age of the team is 433 and the average age just shy of 29. Granted, this also means they will record the greatest number of test caps by a rugby team, 766, eclipsing the Boks previously held record of 750
Brad Thorn, the enforcer of the All Black pack, leads a pack of veterans at 36 years of age, with four other starting forwards aged at 30 or older. And it’s not just numbers 1 to 8 that will soon be seeking their rugby pension cheques, the starting backline are also breaking the wrong kind of age records. In so doing, Graham Henry is showing his World Cup hand by entrusting his most experienced players with fending off what he believes is the only side standing between him and elusive World Cup glory.
As every South African fan that watched the John Smit’s men lift the Webb Ellis trophy in 2007, and English fans that watched Martin Johnson do the same in 2003, experience will hold you in good stead come play-off time at the World Cup. And Henry, himself the most experienced international coach ever, knows this all too well.
If Australia are to win this game, it will take a momentous effort from their forward pack and loose trio. They will be up against a formidable front-row and the Wallabies will most likely attempt to avert the scrum as much as possible. The breakdown battle should be an exciting affair with the much-praised Pockock taking on the reigning prince of pilfering, Richie McCaw. Although struggling to regain his imperious form since returning from injury, McCaw knows when to step it up a gear for the big stage and he’ll no doubt be looking to put the younger Wallaby firmly in his place.
Another aspect of the game that will be interesting to watch unfold, will be how the All Blacks adapt their game in tightly contested matches, as this one is likely to be. Will they continue to throw the ball around, dishing up the exciting flavour of rugby they personify, or will they resort to a more conservative approach that will be required in play-off matches of the World Cup? Australia, on the other hand will have no choice, but to move the ball to their dangerous backs as quickly as possible, to give playmakers Genia and Cooper opportunities to put their dangerous back three into space.
The bookies have the All Blacks winning this one by 10 points, which may sound like a lot. But one converted try and a penalty difference isn’t much in modern rugby terms. Expect some stunning tries from both sides and the ascendency of this match to ebb and flow. But ultimately, the more experienced pack of the All Blacks will lay the foundation for this victory, especially if the scrum count edges higher as the match goes on.
As for this being a prelude to the World Cup final, well we’ve already publicly pinned our colours to that particular mast. To put the likelihood of these two meeting in the final into context, the last time the top two favoured teams met in the Rugby World Cup final was, well, never. DM
All Blacks – 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Australia – 15. Kurtley Beale, 14. James O’Connor, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Ben McCalman, 7. David Pocock, 6. Rocky Elsom (c), 5. James Horwill, 4. Rob Simmons, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Pekahou Cowan, 18. Dan Vickerman, 19. Scott Higginbotham, 20. Luke Burgess, 21. Anthony Faingaa, 22. Lachie Turner
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT) (09:35 CAT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Glen Jackson
Weather Forecast: Mostly sunny, max 15 deg, min 11deg
Photo: New Zealand’s All Blacks coach Graham Henry at the captain’s run at Eden Park in Auckland August 5, 2011, prior to their first Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia in the Tri-Nations rugby series at Eden Park, on Saturday. REUTERS/Nigel Marple.
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