What’s the old saying – no guts, no glory. The Wallaby squad, to a man, proved in Sydney they did indeed have the guts to stand up for 80 glorious minutes against the All Blacks and win the Rugby Championship.
To say that the performance warmed the cockles of many a rugby heart on this side of the Tasman is an understatement.
The Bledisloe Cup is now on the line, and Michael Cheika is taking a significant gamble in the depth of changes he has made to his starting XV.
Perhaps with one eye on the weather and expecting a massive onslaught in the forwards, Cheika has gone for size in the Wallaby pack.
The million dollar question is whether or not the bigger Wallaby starting eight can play with the level of intensity needed to win and retain enough ball to ensure we have go-forward and enjoy territorial superiority.
It is extremely important that we do not play too wide with the starting XV Cheika has selected.
By playing a tight game, we can capitalise on the power that the likes of lock Will Skelton and No. 8 Wycliff Palu are capable of bringing to the table. Such big runners need to drive forward and stay on their feet longer before they go to ground if we are to obtain maximum benefit from their presence.
I would expect to see some inside balls from reinstated flyhalf Quade Cooper to these players, with the simple goal of getting over the gainline, tying up the Kiwi backrow, and keeping them on the back foot.
This is fine while we have possession, but we do run the serious risk of a lack of mobility during periods when we are chasing the ball.
Much has been made of Cooper’s recall, but the game will be won or lost up front irrespective of who the Wallabies have at 10. Having said this, I would be more inclined to play Cooper if the Wallabies were to adopt a wide-running game, and backrowers Michael Hooper and David Pocock were both on the field.
While Cooper is a very deceptive runner and passer of the ball, he does not have the best kicking game. This may prove problematical for the Wallabies.
It is nice to see Matt Toomua getting a start at 12, with Matt Giteau covering many positions in Cheika’s 6:2 bench split. If the Cooper recall doesn’t work out, expect to see Toomua at 10 and Giteau at 12.
While Giteau may be a last-resort backup to halfback Nic White, White must stay on the field for 80 minutes if we are to stand a reasonable chance of winning. Tinkering with 9 and 10 is fraught with danger, and Test matches are not the ideal venues for experimentation.
Cheika seems to want his starting XV to hold the Kiwis at bay, with an eye to infusing experienced fresh blood off the bench to ensure the Wallabies maintain intensity for the full 80 minutes.
This will be a war of attrition and the All Blacks will be looking to reassert dominance at the breakdown. They will probably win this area of the game, at least until Pocock gets onto the field. The risk is the amount of damage they can do in that time. If history is any guide, probably quite a bit.
On the other hand, the bench players could stand Australia in good stead if they play with the necessary intensity. The Sydney Test will have taken its toll on the Wallabies, and new blood may help keep the ship afloat and firing. Let’s hope we are armed with canons and not peashooters.
Australia’s scrum got the upper hand against New Zealand in their first clash of 2015 and should be able to repeat the dose on Saturday.
Lineouts may be another story and Skelton, James Horwill and Scott Fardy have a big responsibility in this area.
Having experienced an All Black onslaught at Eden Park, after a win against the All Blacks, I can tell you that the level of intensity they will bring to the table should be a sight to behold.
If New Zealand get parity of possession I would not be putting my house and first born on the Wallabies winning.