Preview: All Blacks v Wallabies
James Mortimer 16 Aug 2014 Getty Images
It isn’t the first time that the World Champions have been this close, in 2010 the All Blacks were poised with 15 straight Test successes, and in 2012 had established 16 victories on the trot.
On both occasions those streaks were halted by the Wallabies, who once again stand in the way of New Zealand – a habit that Australia has developed nicely over the years despite the 149 matches between the sides being dominated by the All Blacks with 102 wins in the rivalry.
However the Wallabies are in some touch of their own, having collected seven straight scalps.
While Ewen McKenzie is still to guide Australia to victory over New Zealand, now with 18 losses from their last 20 meetings with the All Blacks, he will hope to build off the Waratahs recent title success.
ANZ Stadium was just a few weeks ago the stage for New South Wales Investec Super Rugby glory, but as many – most of who have worn the Black jersey – have warned, there is a major gap between the two levels.
There is no doubt that the Waratahs contingent will still have a foot on cloud nine, and will take confidence into the All Blacks clash, but the hidden danger here is that those same players may be unprepared for the difference when playing a World Champion.
That same ‘maybe or maybe not’ theory is in place for the likes of Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, both will be highly motivated to walk away from Sydney a winner this time around, but there will be some Wallabies that will look at those two All Blacks aristocrats and glimpse some mortality.
Memories aside, New Zealand’s team looks so much more powerful than the most recent Crusaders outfit, there are only seven members of the red and blacks present in the match day 23.
The same number of Waratahs are in the Wallabies starting XV.
The only major ‘initial’ talking point for the All Blacks was the selection of Ben Smith over fit again Israel Dagg, but while the thunderous boot of the Crusaders custodian may be missed, the Highlanders co-captain is among the form players of the world.
His ability to insert himself into the attacking line stands Smith apart, and his inclusion confirms that the national selectors are not as inclined towards loyalty as some sections might believe.
Tony Woodcock’s absence will be felt but Wyatt Crockett was one of the more devastating looseheads during Super Rugby, even if his height and ensuing angles sometimes earn him the wrath of referees.
While the final change for the All Blacks, with Malakai Fekitoa coming into the team to replace father to be Conrad Smith, is in hindsight a comfortable switch as one suspects the World Champions will look to attack Australia where possible.
Kurtley Beale’s inclusion, barbs from Steve Hansen aside, speaks of a clear and obvious intention to play with ball in hand – the Waratahs playmaker will not sit back in the pocket and send the ball to Sydney’s heavens.
Experience versus tactics
The All Blacks boast 302 more Test caps (751 vs 449) than the Wallabies, yet before the town criers come out in force, the average age of the teams is closer than one would suspect – 26 to Australia against 28 to New Zealand.
For the home team, tactics are clear, they will play with a style with plenty of similarity to the Waratahs, an outfit in similar vein to the Reds in 2011 – resulting in a nation playing with an ethos adhering to their traditional attacking values.
This swept NSW to the title, but such an approach came at expense of certain values at the set piece, and while it wasn’t critical for the Waratahs, one imagines that the All Blacks have a far more decisive ability to capitalise on such potential chinks.
The world’s number one ranked side will arrive in Sydney with perhaps the most all-round tactical portfolio ever seen in a New Zealand Test team.
In recent years the All Blacks have drifted away from their passion of playing strict attacking rugby, instead preferring the art of the counterattack and precision via the restarts, set piece and defence.
While still scoring more tries than any other international side, this current side’s most ominous weapon cannot be truly measured.
It is the mental fortitude and 80 minute plus resilience of these All Blacks that make them so dangerous, added with what remains the most collision dominant approach of any side.
New Zealand Rugby President and former All Black Ian MacRae, involved with the team of the late sixties that registered 17 Test wins, had this to say to Reuters about the team's success over time.
"If there was any constant driving force it was the fact that we had the fear of losing," said.
"I don't mean fear (as generally defined), it was just so important for us not to lose because that's what everyone expected.
"It's the same today."
Jerome Kaino agrees.
"I think that's why a lot of the boys really prepare well and step up for those games. I'm not saying they're more important than any other Test but you don't want to be in that changing room after an Aussie Test being on the losing side,” he said.
"Our build-up and everything is built on what it's like to lose against them and we really focus hard on that."
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