New Zealand and Australia have both dismissed the notion that their final Tri-Nations match, in Sydney on Saturday, is a dead rubber.
In terms of competition the outcome of the match does not matter. The All Blacks have already won the Tri-Nations and retained the Bledisloe Cup.
Not that that will persuade the All Blacks to let up. It is not in their nature to let up. It is not in the script of the haka to so disrespect the enemy that they take it easy. They will be going flat out.
The Wallabies have one change from the team that won so dramatically in Bloemfontein and that was forced by injury. The All Blacks have five changes from the team that won so dramatically in Soweto, one of them forced by injury – a noteworthy won because a novice has replaced one of the top players in rugby history, Aaron Cruden for Dan Carter. The other four changes are a matter of choice – and the choice does not really matter.
The All Blacks travel to the Sydney in the confidence of rampant success in 2010 and ready to front up to the responsibility of the 2011 World Cup.
The Wallabies will not be without confidence – not with their exhilarating first-half displays against the Springboks and their 10 points in the last six minutes to secure a rare victory in Bloemfontein. Mind you the All Blacks went even better with 12 points in two minutes in Soweto.
The Wallabies will presumably continue with their blitz tactics. If the All Blacks seek to match them, as surely they will, the game could start with fireworks, more like the 10-try extravaganza in Melbourne than the niggardly three-try affair in Christchurch. Whether man is designed to keep that up for 80 minutes is unlikely but it will ensure another gripping match in a Tri-Nations that has been enthralling in all but the foregone conclusion of the final victor.
Teams like to be underdogs and preempt the need for excuses. The All Blacks are clearly favourites. If rest is an advantage, they have had two Saturday’s off while the Wallabies have been engaged in bruising battles. If travel is a disadvantage, then the Wallabies are disadvantaged, flying all the way from “Africa” to the far side of Australia while the All Blacks have a short hop across the Tasman.
One thing about the Wallabies is that they are resilient. But then young people usually are. Not that the All Blacks are an aged lot. This could just be a match to remember.
Set pieces will, inevitably, play a part. In the line-outs New Zealand lost three out of eight against South Africa in Soweto, Australia not a single one out of 16 in Bloemfontein. On the other hand New Zealand were better in the scrums against South Africa.
After that there is the fascinating battle for the tackle ball.
After that there is the creative running with the ball. And it is here that the All Blacks look sharper and, in a simple way, more creative and effective.
Goal-kicking will inevitably play apart and here, on their faultless, nerveless Bloemfontein showing the Wallabies certainly seem better off. They have four really good kickers to the two of the All Blacks – Matt Giteau, James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper with Berrick Barnes spare for the Wallabies to Piri Weepu, Israel Dagg and Aaron Cruden of the All Blacks. In addition the All Blacks in this Tri-Nations have been more penalised than the Wallabies. Of course, the value of a penalty and the effectiveness of the kicker depend on where it happens on the field.
It will be interesting to see if surprise selection Colin Slade becomes a new All Black.
Players to Watch:
For Australia: You have at the back two players well worth watching , players with clever steps – Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor. And there is another – Rocky Elsom, who was immense in Bloemfontein.
For New Zealand: Here you have a back three worth watching, players with deceptive acceleration – Mils Muliaina who has been in top form again, Cory Jane and Israel Dagg. Then there is Tom Donnelly, who has had a wonderful Tri-Nations. But the truth is that 30 players will start this match, every one worth watching and much of the interest may well be in the individual battles. It has the makings of an interesting match.
Head to Head: Perhaps the most interesting contest and the one that could most effect the course of the match is between old bull Richie McCaw and young bull David Pocock as they battle at the tackle, both strong men, both fearless and committed. There is also an interesting contest at flyhalf between young Quade Cooper and even younger Aaron Cruden - both unpredictable, adventurous, fearless and skilled players. There are other battles – the force of Ma’a Nonu against the clever skill of Matt Giteau‘s who had a welcome return to form on Bloemfontein. But this match has many interesting head-to-heads – bustling, energetic, committed Adam Ashley-Cooper against elegant, skilled, committed Conrad Smith; unyielding lock Nathan Sharpe against unyielding lock Brad Thorn; strong Rocky Elsom against fast Victor Vito; young Kieran Read who is one of the outstanding finds of 2011 and even younger, newer, robust Ben McCalman; Stephen Moore against Keven Mealamu; Owen Franks against difficult Benn Robinson. It has the makings of a fascinating match.
2010: New Zealand won 20-10, Christchurch
2010: New Zealand won 49-28, Melbourne
2009: New Zealand won 32-19, Tokyo
2009: New Zealand won 33-6, Wellington
2009: New Zealand won 19-18, Sydney
2009: New Zealand won 22-16, Auckland
2008: New Zealand won 19-14, Hong Kong
2008: New Zealand won 28-24, Brisbane
2008: New Zealand won 39-10, Auckland
2008: Australia won 34-19 at Stadium Australia, Sydney
rugby365.com Prediction: Look at the tide of history and it is flowing with New Zealand. This century they lead Australia 16-7. Recent history is even more one-sided – 9-0. This year the New Zealand have won both, scoring 69 points to 38, nine tries to four. It would be outrageous not to predict a New Zealand win, and it could be by more than 15 points.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (captain), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Mark Chisholm, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 James Slipper, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 21 Anthony Fainga’a.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 John Afoa, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Jerome Kaino, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Rene Ranger.
Date: Saturday, 11 September 2010
Kick-off: 20.00 (10.00 GMT)
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Expected weather conditions: Clear with a high of 21°C, dropping to 10°C and a westerly wind outside the stadium of 10 km/h, a spring perfect day for rugby
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Rugby 365′s Paul DobsonTweet