The Roar
The Roar


Issues in Wallabies vs All Blacks 'final'

Roar Guru
13th October, 2011
1913 Reads

This article does not aim to describe how one team is superior to the other, to score little points, or to favour New Zealand or Australia in any kind of polemical estimation. Instead, it will simply and plainly provide basis for the discussion of various questions around which the match may turn.

Make no mistake, despite the extra game afterwards, this is the true final of the World Cup and the fascinating culmination of two long and complex journeys.

All the elements of strategy and choices over selection will find definitive resolution, and the wisdom of any number of decisions involving the coaches, players and national unions will be brought before an ultimate judgement.

So here are some points which are positive, negative or lie in some grey zone in between, that may determine the outcome of the match. There are doubtless others and as I say there is no desire to suggest one team is better or one team will win.

1. Forward power at the breakdown

This is naturally the centre of any match, but in the case of both sides power will be the key to fire any victory.

Australia, despite defending well enough to permanently repel the marauding Springboks in the quarter-final, were also bullied to kingdom come to the extent that it was impossible to string four phases together.

The famed Wallaby backline was hardly allowed to take part in the game, and in order to beat the All Blacks they will need to be more than spectators.


On the other hand, the same Wallaby pack performed a similar feat to that exacted on them in the final Tri-nations match against the ABs, battering them backwards in the first half, and the Argentina match showed that neither team responds well to violent, bullish, direct running.

So the matter will come down to roughly the same thing for both teams: flatten the opposition pack, and the result is yours. It seems likely that this will be decided more around the back row than the tight five, for that department in both sides is much of a muchness. Pocock vs McCaw, Kaino vs Elsom, and Samo vs Reid are three monumental duels.

It would seem on present form that Pocock has the edge on McCaw, Kaino on Elsom and Samo on Reid. Elsom does not appear what he was, while Reid was not in very good form before he was injured and may be worse now. To sum up however, the battle seems even overall.

Pocock and McCaw will probably be less influential than in the quarter-final with stricter refereeing, the power of Samo and Kaino may cancel that of the other out, and Elsom and Reid could both continue off-form.

2. Weepu the key

Piri Weepu has been given the direction of the entire All Black team, forwards and backs, in the absence of Carter, playing the kind of role Fourie du Preez does for South Africa.

It has been correctly deemed too risky to weigh the mammoth burden of pressure of running the team on an inexperienced number 10, and so Weepu has taken over not only the goal-kicking, but the playmaking role. So thorough is his assumption of these duties it is unimportant who plays 10. Indeed, Weepu spent large parts of the Argentina match simply missing out Cruden.


Weepu has been in excellent form this year and a rock of psychological stability, in the last match pinning Argentina back with perfectly judged kicks, while releasing both forwards and back with accuracy and speed, as well as slotting a very high percentage of pressure kicks at goal.

The only match in which he was anonymous was the last Tri Nations victory, when the savaging of the All Blacks pack affected him, and Will Genia profited accordingly.

Genia, in contrast, suffered as his pack underwent a heavy monstering against South Africa. On the basis of the Tri Nations, the score stands at one-all between them, Peepu dominating the first, Genia the second.

However, one could say this is simply because their respective packs dominated on these occasions. (Which bring us back to point number one.)

3. Non-battle in the lineout
Neither team is up to much in the lineout, and none of the four hookers available throws with a razor eye, so don’t expect this to have much influence on the match. It could do if Nathan Sharpe was to start, but Deans will probably prefer the grunting brawn of Dan Vickerman, whose burliness was a part of the Tri Nations win.

The scrum is relatively even too, although perhaps the All Blacks will have an edge there.

4. Cruden better than Slade


It was always a curious decision to chose Cruden over Slade this year, especially considering the motive for it: Slade’s supposed stability and calm.

The fact that he then played like a quivering bundle of nerves shows the folly of that choice, and so Cruden, the more creative player, is all gain, not least because he has not been injured: Slade never looked confident after his injury.

What’s more, Cruden has not spent the last two months listening to endless talk of how inadequately he can fill Dan Carter’s shoes, how the hopes of a nation will rest on him.

Although there will be a build-up of pressure now, hopefully it will not have time to reach the avalanche proportions that appeared to be sinking Slade.

4. Midfields to cancel each other out

Pat McCabe is largely chosen to nullify Nonu, as he did so well in the Tri Nations decider. Nonu is the key midfield linebreaker for the All Blacks, and when quietened, the backline threat will have to come exclusively from out wide.

On the other hand, don’t for a moment expect McCabe to get through Ma’a Nonu. Both outside centres have either been in atrocious attacking form or are on the way out. In any case, both are such good defensive centres they might well silence each other anyway, so neither Conrad Smith nor Adam Ashley-Cooper is likely to be critical in breaking the game.


There is one difference however: Smith. Aware of his inability to break the line this season has taken more of a playmaking role, something that is doubly important now the major source of creativity, Carter, is unavailable.

Ashley-Cooper in contrast, almost lost the Ireland match singlehandedly in fruitless attempts to run through, squandering most of the Wallaby possession.

Both men must recognise that any attempt they make to run the ball themselves will be a wasted attacking opportunity, and should instead dedicate the sum of their efforts to playing the more dangerous figures around them into space.

5. Cooper to improve.
Quade Cooper did not have his greatest match against the Springboks, and like Will Genia suffered from playing behind a pack in the process of being dismantled.

Normally even in a bad game he comes up with some magic however, and it is unlikely the Wallaby pack will be quite so completely done over as they were last week, so expect him to be more influential, and instructed to kick less in attack.

6. No more kicking as offensive weapon please Wallabies
The quarter-final witnessed the most bizarre and suicidal display of kicking as an offensive weapon in rugby history. I am not referring to kicking for territory, which is necessary and something separate.

I am referring to the crazy obsession of Cooper, Beale and Genia for speculatively kicking away all the possession that it had taken the forwards 100 tackles to wrest from the Springboks.


What’s more, while speculative kicking could have threatened Muliaina and Sivivatu, it will not worry Dagg and Jane.

7. How to launch the New Zealand backs?
New Zealand have three strike runners who can penetrate top defences, as opposed to those of the second grade.

But how will Nonu, Dagg and Sonny Bill Williams be released in a way to baffle and disturb the opposition?

Dan Carter was shooting these players into space with the ease of Jesse James before he was injured, but now the worry is that a strategy of ‘give them the ball and they’ll sort it out’ will be too predictable.

Make no mistake, those three will be heavily marked, and it will take considerable imagination to spring them into the backline cleverly and unexpectedly. SBW will be looking to make an impact from the bench.

Rain would probably affect both teams equally, simply reducing their ability to run the ball as well as usual, so that shouldn’t be too much of a factor.

8. Energy and abandon
The Wallabies are a little like the French, either racing in with a surge of impassioned vigour, or sleepwalking into defeat.


The All Blacks are somewhere in the middle, proceeding in measured, stately regularity to size up their opponents and steadily build their game.

Such is the delicate psychology of a World Cup knockout match however, that is may well be the team that leaps out of the blocks first that makes the other jittery, and takes advantage. Their can be no ‘wait and see’ from either team.

9. Eden Park.
A factor either way? Probably not, as it could create as much pressure on the All Blacks as support, while it could challenge as much as intimidate the Wallabies.

10. New tricks for old dogs.
Both coaches will have been saving their very best wrinkles and dreams for this one colossal showdown, and so don’t expect the familiar routine from any of them. Victory may come down to who unveils the biggest rabbit from their hat.

One thing is certain, this match should be close, if ever one can safetly say such a thing.

A truly titanic battle and the culmination of four years of the story of southern hemisphere and global rugby, the neutral or indeed unblinkered supporter of one of the teams involved should be able appreciate an intricate, subtle, spellbinding event in the history of the game.

Good luck to both teams and let’s look forward to a great show.