SPIRO: All Blacks selectors pay the ultimate respect to the Wallabies
Grant Fox, All Blacks selector. Photo via http://www.theblues.co.nz/
The All Blacks team selected to play the Wallabies at ANZ Stadiumn on Saturday night could be called the ultimate respect team.
For the key principle behind the selections it seems to me is that, when confronted with deciding between potential and experience, the selectors have opted for experience.
And the reason for this is obvious enough.
Despite all the talk about how much better the All Blacks are on paper against the Wallabies, the fact is that the Sydney Test will be a tremendously hard game for them to win.
The All Blacks won by one point in their last two Tests against the Wallabies at Sydney, 23 – 22 in 2010 and 19 – 18.
This year the Wallabies have had a long preparation because there was no Australian side in the Super Rugby semi-finals.
The coaches have used this time to get the squad, and especially the Waratahs contingent in the squad (8 of them), really fit.
The new coaching team, too, has spent a lot of time prepping the Wallabies on strategies to counter what went wrong last year in the 2011 RWC semi-final.
The All Black selectors clearly expect a really tough encounter in the forwards with a re-vitalised Wallaby pack. There has been some debate in New Zealand over the selection of the tough Luke Romano over the huge, young, Brodie Retallick in the second row.
But this selection goes to the heart of the matter for the All Blacks success in the last few years.
On the bus for officials leaving Eden Park after the 2011 RWC semi-final, Fred Allen sought out John O’Neill to tell him: “John, if the Wallabies had a couple of Brad Thorn’s in the pack they’d be world-beaters.”
Romano is the nearest equivalent in New Zealand rugby to Thorn. He is big enough. Tough. A vigorous and relentless tackler. And a smashing runner in the mid-field.
With Kieran Read, Romano and Liam Messam, the All Blacks have three big, hard running forwards which will allow Richie McCaw to concentrate more on his fetching and link game at number 7.
In the backs, too, the selectors have gone for the experience of Hosea Gear (although, like Romano, he has hardly played much for the All Blacks) over the raw potential of Julian Savea.
Only 8 of the Wallabies involved in the RWC 2011 semi-final are in the squad for Saturday night’s Test. The same number of All Blacks are backing up from the 2011 for the coming Test.
But for the All Blacks, one of the changes is a critical one: Dan Carter was out for the RWC game.
Aaron Cruden played splendidly against the Wallabies that day and even kicked a field goal that nailed home the lead advantage.
But with Carter back, the All Blacks get their greatest number 10 back, the player who has scored more points in Tests than any other player and a player who when he plays with Richie McCaw rarely is on the losing side for the All Blacks.
The old firm of Carter and McCaw, together with a frontrow with the most capped All Blacks prop and hooker of all time in Tony Woodcock (86 caps) and Keven Mealamu (93), is heading a team that has the experience and the record to perform strongly in what is going to be a cauldron of Wallaby support at ANZ Stadium.
All Blacks team: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Ben Smith, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Victor Vito, Brodie Retallick, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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