The All Blacks were dealt a blow on Friday as starting hooker Nathan Harris was ruled out with a potentially season-ending injury. Codie Taylor moves into the No.2 jumper from the bench, and injured first-choice rake Dane Coles has been added to the bench despite still recovering from a rib injury.
The rest of the team essentially picked itself, although there are a few surprises on the bench. Beaudan Barrett, although being the form No.10 and probably the best player in the world, was expected to be on the bench but he gets the start over Aaron Cruden for this Test. Despite Barrett’s versatility and the impact he has provided off the bench in the past, the selectors couldn’t resist his current form.
They have gone with two loose forwards on the bench in Liam Squire and Ardie Savea. Kieran Read or Jerome Kaino will fill in the lock position if Sam Whitelock or Brodie Retallick are forced off the field.
The main surprise is loosehead prop Kane Hames. Not many people in world rugby would know this player – even some New Zealanders may be scratching their heads. He played for the Highlanders last year and is a very strong scrummager and a tackling machine. At the start of the year he did not have a team to play for but was drafted by the Chiefs, only to be injured in pre-season and miss most of the Super Rugby season. But with Joe Moody out they have limited depth at loosehead prop, so Hames gets the call up. He will be looking to make an impact of the bench and hopefully become a regular All Black. It’s a great opportunity for the 27-year-old Wellington native. Julian Savea gets the No.23 Jersey ahead of new All Black Anton Lienert-Brown.
The Wallabies team was highly anticipated due to the overseas-based players returning to the squad, and that produced some interesting selections. Ben McCalman has secured the No.6 jersey, which is no surprise to me. I haven’t seen him have a bad game in a few years. Maybe the fact that he plays for the Force has dented his selection ambitions in the national team over the past few seasons. He has a great attacking game, a high tackle count and hits rucks hard.
On that note, they have finally dropped Scott Fardy, although only to the bench. Fardy resembles a Reuben Thorne-type player. His teammates seem to like him but to the public, he is invisible on the field. Cheika selected Will Genia at halfback, with Nick Phipps misses out on the starting jersey. Genia has an excellent work-rate around the park and his cover defence is spot on but his passing from the base of the scrum and ruck needs improving.
Matt Giteau has the No.12 jersey and Adam Ashley-Cooper is on the wing ahead of vice-captain Rob Horne. An interesting move by the coaching staff to name Horne (vc) and then not start him. On the bench they have gone with players such as Dean Mumm, Fardy and Matt Toomua who are role-players rather than impact players. They don’t have the X factor needed coming off the bench but can play their part in a structured set-up. Allan Ala’alatoa will debut from the bench. He has been the form prop of the Super Rugby sides.
HOW IT WILL PLAY OUT
The All Blacks will go into this match as favourites, which is no surprise having only lost three games in as many years. But the Wallabies have been in camp for four weeks, they have no expectation of winning this game, and they have the European players back which adds 300-odd Tests of experience, which is crucial in international rugby.
The Wallabies will attack the All Blacks midfield as Crotty and Fekitoa have been out of form for the last two months. The black jersey can change a player’s fortune in one game, however – just ask Ma’a Nonu.
ANZ Stadium is Australia’s version of Eden Park. They are very hard to beat there, with the All Blacks only managing a loss and a draw in their last two visits.
The Wallabies haven’t won the Bledisloe since 2002. Fourteen years ago…that is quite a long time. The All Blacks only need to win one game to retain the Cup, while the Wallabies need to win this game plus next week’s clash in Wellington to reclaim the prize. I can’t see the Wallabies winning two games in a row but I wouldn’t be surprised if they won this game in Sydney.
The Bledisloe Cup has been contested 55 times, with New Zealand winning 43 and Austrlia the other 12. The last time the Wallabies held the Cup, they did so for five years from 1998-2002. The All Blacks longest tenure with the Cup is their current 13-season streak.