After not much too-ing and a lot of fro-ing, the Bledisloe Cup series resumes in Perth, a week later than planned, which was already a week later than originally scheduled. But full credit to the rugby public in Perth for managing to sell out the stadium three times over.
The Bledisloe will remain in New Zealand for another year, but this is no dead rubber.
The beauty of overlaying Bledisloe matches with The Rugby Championship and the Tri-Nations all those years ago means that every game is live. And make no mistake, a Wallabies win in Perth will have significant ramifications for the rest of the tournament.
NZ are playing for a clean sweep. Australia is playing to shake up the Rugby Championship. And South Africa and Argentina are watching on from Queensland, hoping they belt seven shades out of each other.
Up the guts and turn them around. A basic strategy but pertinent against this side.
Fiji showed the way at the breakdown, and it is important that the Wallabies dominate here. I would look to keep their back three heading back with some timely kicks into space, even more so if they continue to select the same players.
Yes, this can be fraught with danger but good kicks with quality chase holds true, regardless of the opposition.
Most importantly, the Wallabies must get their lineout functioning, on both throws. The All Blacks have shown they can give away a few penalties at times, they must be able to take advantage of it, as well as put an AB lineout, without Whitelock, through the ringer.
The Wallabies need to constrict the All Blacks.
There are loose lines all over the show. A cordon is needed. Keep passes to a minimum; use the 95% ruck instead, and only in the NZ half.
This means, a kicking game. Be boring, but ruthless. Bring pressure to every scrum, lineout, restart, maul, and slow breakdown. Spoil Kiwi ball.
When the All Blacks enter the Wallaby 22, infringe en masse. Don’t talk to the ref, just nod. Go one man down if you have to, but don’t let in the second try. Tighten the score by taking the three. Make the three. Get into the last 20 minutes with NZ under 20. Be within one converted try of them.
And at the death, either grind down the time or pull off something magical. But for 75 minutes, pretend you are the other green and gold SH team.
A different coach, but the path to a result for the Wallabies this time around isn’t far removed from how it was achieved last time.
The All Blacks struggle under pressure when the Wallabies clean-out and recycle is hard, fast and accurate, and there are multiple options off halfback, off front foot ball. That pressure manifests itself in repeated penalties and potentially, yellow cards. After that, anything is possible.
Including shipping ten points to the All Blacks in the period when a man up!
Simply and obviously, the Wallabies must stop kicking indiscriminately in their own 22, being too slow to realign and number off in defence, and stop throwing gift intercepts. For all 80 minutes, not just half the match.
This is where I’ve really enjoyed being able to see the guys’ responses first, because there’s four great responses here. I’ll try to add one more.
The Wallabies have had a bit of success with the set piece against New Zealand, and I reckon that’s where they’ve got to back themselves. Drag the All Blacks into a set piece battle, take the pace out of the game, and kick the ball into row G at every single opportunity.
The All Black lineout will still be good, but there’s no question it won’t be as good without Sam Whitelock. The Wallabies have got to believe they can handle anything the All Blacks lineout will – wait for it – throw at them (!) and get up and compete as often as they can. And the more pressure they can apply, the more chances they can create for themselves.
There’s just no doubt the set piece can be their best point of attack. Get that right, and everything can flow from there.
Just simplify things completely, and not over-think the game. The set piece gives them a chance to reset and go again, and so the Wallabies have to be confident around their systems.
To beat the All Blacks, it is essential to have very good set pieces and especially the lineouts where the Wallabies showed some weaknesses in the last game between them.
Play close to the formations and avoid the loss of balls. Do not try to exchange blow for blow, as those in black seem to have more individual talent and a more oiled group game. Slow down the game as much as possible and take care of the base in defence.
To beat New Zealand, you have to play almost perfectly and hope they are not on their best day. Take the three points every in every chance.
Not sure if it qualifies as a surprise as such, but I do expect the Pumas will play a lot better than they showed against the Springboks as the forward packs to come are, perhaps not as direct, so they should find a bit more front foot ball to play with and let some of their fine backs show their wares.
I suspect the Boks may surprise quite a few with a more expansive approach then what we have seen recently. Tight, pressure footy may have been the order of the day against a like-minded Lions side, however the Boks will know that the attack-oriented opposition to come are unlikely to pass on the chances the Lions couldn’t capitalise on, and they will need to push the envelope at times in games to come.
South Africa has a massive squad in Queensland, where they will have the most freedom of movement they’ve enjoyed in three months.
Expect some unexpected selections, as Jacques Nienaber builds even greater depth in the tight five and on the wing. It seems clear who the first and second choices are at every position (except perhaps 15, where there are three vying to succeed Willie le Roux), but I feel he wants to identify third and fourth stringers.
Argentina seems to like playing (and being) in Australia. Expect the Pumas to play prettier rugby, but their depth is not at SA’s level, so they’ll need to start better.
I’m not expecting any real surprises from any of the four nations. All teams have a firm idea as to how they want to play, those methods are transparent to fans and opposition, and I expect them all of them to try to impose that way, up until the point that they can’t.
This Springbok side is one of the most single-minded and disciplined teams I can ever remember, for constructing a simple game plan, and sticking to it rigidly. Unless things go exceedingly badly or incredibly well, I don’t see them straying from the script.
The Pumas have some tricks up their sleeve in how well they might play, but not the method. That template was written in Newcastle last year. They will try to knock the Wallabies and All Blacks off their stride, kick for goal, and use their speed and skill in transition.
I’m not really expecting any surprises from the Springboks, because they just don’t need that in their game. They’re deliberately methodical, and very good at it to boot.
Los Pumas, on the other hand, could be anything in this tournament!
So we know that they have a great scrum, and they’ll be physical in defence, and ruthless at the breakdown. But it’s what they produce from those platforms that makes Argentina so good to watch.
The surprise, therefore, is that I just don’t know what they’re going to do. They are the very definition of a team of “known unknowns” because you know they’ve got something unpredictable up their sleeve, but you just don’t know what it’s going to be.
Sadly, for the Pumas, they often don’t know either. But again, that’s what makes them great to watch.
South Africa arrives in Australia with all its established players and these days without a game are very good for them to rest a little from the pressures of playing so often at a very high level.
I think they will play as they have been doing, but improved. They will be the team to beat in the Rugby Championship for the first time in a long time.
As for Los Pumas, I think they have three areas to solve and that generate doubts.
The first is the subject of the props where they are going to have some debuts and to play against the All Blacks with players with very little experienced in that or any other position it is to give a lot of advantage.
The second is the media couple that, without being able to count on Tomas Cubelli, the responsibility falls on two scrum half, Felipe Ezcurra and Gonzalo Bertranou, with very different characteristics. Los Pumas will have to change their style of play at some point in the game when they exchange positions.
Nicolas Sanchez is the starter in his position, but Mario Ledesma must give Domingo Miotti more minutes on the field because he has to arrive to France in 2023 with at least two experienced players in the position.
Unfortunately, Los Pumas do not have smaller games to give him those minutes to gain confidence, therefore he has to give it to him in this tournament against great powers.
The third point is that of the back three where there are a large number of players available, but Mario Ledesma has not been able to give regularity to the players in any of those positions for different reasons.
I think if the All Blacks don’t play a pressure defence, the Pumas will have their chances.
And what surprises are you expecting from either or both of South Africa and Argentina?