Wallabies must lift to match All Blacks' pack power
Cornell Vander Heyden
August 14, 2014
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the first two matches of the 2014 Rugby Championship
The Wallabies have every reason to feel quietly confident ahead of facing the All Blacks for the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship opener at Sydney's ANZ Stadium on Saturday. Both sides proved in their most recent series that they are building well for the 2015 Rugby World Cup with clean-sweep victories over France (Australia) and England (New Zealand).
The home side are aiming for an eighth straight Test victory and, more importantly, Ewen McKenzie has instilled a sense of calm around the squad. Not having to deal with any late-night, off-field drama has allowed him to focus fully on what will again be a massive challenge. Recent injuries have affected forward depth more than the backs, and that's where McKenzie's biggest threat may come from.
For the All Blacks, aiming for a record 18th straight Test victory, this is the match that may induce a few nerves. The record will be in the back of their minds and the lift in Australia's performances across the board in Super Rugby will have been well noted. Nevertheless, this looks to be a very strong All Blacks outfit, even with the loss of Tony Woodcock and Dan Carter to injury. If the strength of a side can be measured by the strength of its bench, this New Zealand squad is all class.
Ruck'n Maul: Why is Kurtley Beale at No.10?%]
One thing seems certain: given favourable conditions, this should be an entertaining affair with plenty of ball-in-hand, attacking rugby. The Wallabies backline is set-up that way, and the All Blacks will likely fight fire with fire. Standby for a potential classic like the first match in 2000, played at the same venue.
Ewen McKenzie has picked his squad based on form, with a dominance of New South Wales Waratahs and Brumbies players rewarded for excellent seasons. Among those, Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale will be key. The former to continue to do what he does so well, menacing the opposition at the breakdown while also providing a running threat, while the latter needs to be on the mark as conductor of the backline orchestra, as he was for the Waratahs in the final.
Michael Hooper has done an excellent job filling the role David Pocock played at the breakdown © Getty Images
As usual there are few players in the All Blacks side not at the top of their game, as evidenced by Israel Dagg being dropped for Ben Smith. New Zealand got the better of England this year with Kieran Read only playing 40 minutes because of injury and he looms as a big threat after another excellent display in Super Rugby.
Kieran Read played only a minor role in New Zealand's victories over England this year © Getty Images
Out of form
It is rare to find out-of-form players taking part in a Bledisloe Cup opener, and the 2014 edition is no different. The question mark for the Wallabies is centred more around experience rather than form, particularly at hooker, where Nathan Charles and James Hanson have been thrown in the deep end. How they cope with the pressure could be pivotal to the result.
Key area to watch
With both sides boasting an array of attacking threats in start-studded backlines, the quantity and quality of possession will be vital. If Australia can find parity or better when it comes to line-outs and scrums, their chances of victory will be massively improved. That won't be easy, however, and on paper at least the All Blacks look to have the edge.
When it comes down to finding the paint, Israel Folau and Julian Savea are two of the best in world rugby. Savea has touched down 23 times in 22 Tests, while Folau has scored 13 times in 18 appearances. The latter will want to improve his ratio closer to that of Savea as the Wallabies No.1 threat on Saturday night.
In a tight battle, the All Blacks to prove stronger at the breakdown and set-pieces to run out winners by 7.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Communication error please reload the page.
Stoke City striker Jonathan Walters has said any player who spat at him would be "eating his supper through a straw" afterwards
Andy Murray registered a comfortable victory in Great Britain's opening Davis Cup rubber against the United States
Gloucester head coach Laurie Fisher has underlined the magnitude of his team's task against reigning Aviva Premiership champions and runaway leaders Northampton on Saturday
A former-policewoman has been jailed for 22 months after seizing CCTV footage of a street bust-up to be used as a "tool to blackmail" Liverpool footballer Steven Gerrard.
Wayne Rooney is desperate to realise his ambition of winning the FA Cup this season
Where does Anthony Davidson's record of 24 Grands Prix without a point rank him?
ESPN talks to Marcus Ericsson about the "pay driver" label, aiming for his first career points and what life was really like as a rookie during Caterham's chaotic final season
Gareth Bale says he has to be sharp in training or the other Real Madrid galacticos will quickly be on his case
Amid the glitz and glamour of modern grand prix racing it can be all too easy to forget about the men and women that keep the wheels turning. The Grand Prix Trust makes sure that's not the case
A spitting contest. Just what football needs to improve its reputation. You can always rely on football to stoop that little bit lower than you expected. Papiss Cisse of Newcastle United and Jonny Evans of Manchester United, who later protested his innoce
Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli has claimed that "someone doesn't like [him]" in a cryptic social media post
Amir Khan is unlikely to face Kell Brook this summer as he looks to negotiate a fight with Miguel Cotto in America
Jose Mourinho has praised his Chelsea team's "warrior" spirit and challenged them to fill their pockets with trophies
Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud have the "mental strength" to spearhead Arsenal's charge for Champions League qualification, according to Arsene Wenger
Luis Suarez is to return to Anfield to play in a charity match arranged by Liverpool
After Nemanja Matic twisted his ankle celebrating Chelsea's League Cup win, ESPN runs down some of the game's most ludicrous injuries
Eight years ago, Steve Bunce was offered the chance of buying a 'share' in Tyson Fury, and it would have been a shrewd investment if he had the money
Who was the 100th man to win a world championship Grand Prix?
Some of the best fighters to ever glove up have plied their trade in the Octagon - now ESPN list the 10 best who have fought under the UFC banner
Paul Butler tells Inside Boxing he turned down the chance of a trial with Liverpool in order to focus on boxing - and it was the right choice