How good is it as an Australian sports fan to play three Test matches against New Zealand.
In summer, that is. Let’s do it every year. Australia’s cricket domination might make it a bit easier to cop the Bledisloe Cup hammerings during the rugby season.
For Black Caps fans, the crushing 3-0 series defeat probably left them feeling as glum as Wallabies fans have felt after so many trans-Tasman pastings over the past two decades.
Jordie Barrett even got sent off, having been ejected by MCG security on Day 3 of the Boxing Day Test. It wasn’t as embarrassing as the underarm incident, but it is a bit cringeworthy to hear that apparently his crime was to skoll half a beer.
His brother Scott deserved to be red-carded on the field in last year’s Bledisloe clash in Perth. It would be nice if we could find a way to get Beauden off the field when he’s carving up the Wallabies for something as lame as Jordie’s indiscretion.
There will be lots of All Blacks off the field in Super Rugby this coming season, at least. Incredibly, the start of the season has crept even earlier into the year. The Blues and Chiefs will kick off the 2020 season when they clash at Eden Park in Auckland on January 31.
Some have played their last games for the All Blacks, others are taking sabbaticals by joining Japanese clubs and some are headed for Europe. Missing this season will be Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick, Ben Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Ma’a Nonu, Waisake Naholo, Liam Squire, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Todd and Owen Franks.
Another tier of top-quality provincial players such as Jordan Taufua, Jackson Hemopo, Tevita Li, Melani Nanai, Matt Proctor, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Luke Whitelock, Michael Collins, Sam Lousi and Toby Smith will also be absent.
It’s a mass exodus, and even though a large post-World Cup movement of players is common, it feels bigger than normal for the New Zealand teams. The lure of the money to be made in Japan and Europe has been strong for a number of years and it’s now dragged away from New Zealand not only a group of close-to-retirement legends, but significantly, also a highly credentialled and younger group that have lots of good years ahead.
Three-time defending champions the Crusaders are the team to be hit the hardest. Adding to the upheaval, there’s also talk that coach Scott Robertson – having missed out on the All Blacks head coach job – might start to sniff around for a move overseas too, which would potentially add to transition issues in Christchurch.
It will be intriguing to see how well the Kiwi franchises cope with the off-season changes. Since their World Cup post-mortem and the announcement of Ian Foster as Steve Hansen’s replacement to coach the All Blacks, most of the focus seems to have centred on whether Beauden Barrett can lift the Blues out of the doldrums following his move from the Hurricanes. Warren Gatland’s return to coach the Chiefs has been another hot topic of discussion.
What does this turbulence in the New Zealand game mean for Australian rugby and the hopes of the Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies and Rebels?
Rugby in Australia has been mired in turmoil and disruption for much of the last five years. To get the chance to start a new decade might feel like a bit of a relief for many at Rugby Australia. The Israel Folau saga, a deflating World Cup and the bitterness around the end of Michael Cheika’s reign as Wallabies coach caused a crescendo of angst and frustration for Aussie rugby fans last year.
Like New Zealand, there are plenty of players moving on to new clubs and similarly at various stages of their careers. Samu Kerevi, David Pocock, Will Genia, Rory Arnold, Folau, Bernard Foley, Christian Lealiifano, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Adam Coleman, Nick Phipps, Scott Higginbotham, Quade Cooper, Sam Carter, Curtis Rona, Caleb Timu, Duncan Paia’aua and Sefa Naivalu won’t be seen on Super Rugby fields this season.
Kerevi’s move has been the subject of much consternation given he’s 26, was captain of the Reds, in the prime of his career, one of the first picked for the Wallabies and would’ve been for many seasons to come.
To sacrifice all that shows that no one at RA should get complacent about retaining the top talent at home, even if it’s extremely difficult to compete financially with some of the richest overseas clubs.
But there’s lots to be excited about. The Wallabies coaching staff are in place – David Rennie, Scott Wisemantel and Matt Taylor – and NSW have a new coach too, in Rob Penney. Liam Wright, at just 22, has just been named as Kerevi’s replacement to skipper the Reds. Brad Thorn is expected to get the Reds moving.
But over the next few months it will be interesting the see who steps up out of a line-up of promising young players. Some are already established as Wallabies: Jordan Petaia, Isi Naisarani, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese and Jack Dempsey.
Some are ready to bloom further: Rob Valetini, Wright, Isaac Lucas, Jahrome Brown, Tom Wright, Harry Hockings, Harry Hoopert, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Tate McDermott, Jed Holloway and Lachie Swinton.
Then there are the newcomers. Tepai Moeroa and Solomone Kata are hard-edged midfielders who have come across from the NRL. Nick Frost is a towering young second-rower now at the Brumbies. Will Harrison, Noah Lolesio and Reesjan Pasitoa are playmakers that have the chance to make an impression following the departures of Foley, Lealiifano and Cooper. Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight are highly-rated Queensland back-rowers who are talked up as future Wallabies.
There’s plenty of excitement about players from last year’s Junior Wallabies, who made the World Rugby U20 championship final, and are set to get a chance in Super Rugby this year.
The first round of Super Rugby is only three weeks away. We will have a decent guide as to how Australia and New Zealand have handled their post-World Cup transitions before the cricket season is over, and even as the two countries are playing in a Twenty20 series in late March.
Yep, a three-match series.