Tuesday 24 October 2017 / 05:42 AM

CAN WALLABIES CHALLENGE ABs IN 2017?

While every man and his dog is talking about the Lions tour to New Zealand in June, for the Wallabies and coach Michael Cheika, it’s a case of another year and another chance at ‘the big dog’.

2016 was a terrible year for the Wallabies by almost every account. They were embarrassed at home by England and failed to come close to being in contention during their three encounters with the All Blacks. Remember too, this was less than a year since Michael Cheika and his men managed to make the Rugby World Cup final – and gave the ABs a run for their money.

The game in Australia isn’t where the ARU would like it to be. Players have too much sway and appear to be able to come and go from offshore commitments as they please. None of this helps the performance, structure, and stability of the national team. The impending demise of one of the Aussie Super Rugby teams (likely the Force) is a reflection of the game’s decline.
This year was always going to be about rebuilding for the Wallabies, and they have a great chance to do so.

Cheika and his men are set to face lighter opposition during the June international window, with three Tests against Fiji, Scotland and Italy. These matches will allow the chance to experiment a little ahead of the Rugby Championship in August.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but the Wallabies could find themselves with a greater chance than usual of beating the All Blacks. Steve Hansen and co will be fresh off a gruelling three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions, and some of the All Blacks’ best are also likely to feature in the Super Rugby finals not long after that.

They have three shots at the All Blacks: two on home soil and one in Dunedin.

The magic bullet to beating the All Blacks is putting on a full, 80-minute performance and taking those rare opportunities to score points. Kicking penalties and scoring the odd try, often late in the piece when the game is all but gone, won’t be nearly enough to achieve what almost seems impossible at this point.

Perhaps a change in attitude is needed? Perhaps, but you also can’t deny that the Wallabies typically get themselves into a position to put the foot on the throat early, they just don’t convert. Fitness and the difference in bench depth is also a huge, huge factor in all this.

There is also a bit of uncertainty, for the time being at least, surrounding the Wallabies’ captaincy. Cheika hasn’t confirmed that veteran Stephen Moore will continue in the role, but his experience will be crucial to the Wallabies regardless – despite struggling to hold onto his starting position with the Reds.

In the backline there is a lot of excitement sirrounding in-form winger Henry Speight, but also the dynamic Samu Kerevi in the midfield. Now all Chieka needs to do is figure out where to play Israel Folau, a decision that some would argue should’ve been made well before now.

But consistency in the No.10 jumper and assembling a forward pack capable of matching New Zealand’s ruthless eight-man unit – not an easy task with David Pocock on sabbatical – are also 2016 bugbears that need remedying.

All these little ingredients matter, not only to a side that deeply needs to match the All Blacks, but also one bidding to get their fans optimistic again.

[YouTube – World Rugby]

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Michael Pulman

Based in Hamilton (NZ), Michael is Commentary Box Sports' rugby union and cricket expert

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