Australia v New Zealand preview: All Blacks to thrash the Wallabies and win another Rugby Championship title

Australia v NZ Bledisloe Cup 1 image 2023.jpg Credit: Alamy

Australia v NZ Bledisloe Cup 1 image 2023.jpg Credit: Alamy

It feels like very little can stop the All Blacks’ march towards another Rugby Championship title.

After successive victories, including a fine 35-20 triumph over the Springboks, they need just one more win to make sure of silverware.

New Zealand continue to dominate this competition and it will be a tall order for the Wallabies to stop their trans-Tasman rivals from lifting the trophy in Melbourne.

Eddie Jones’ return has not yet yielded the change in fortunes Rugby Australia expected and their defeat to Argentina signalled how much work needs to be done.

Interestingly, Jones was the last Australian head coach to win the Bledisloe Cup – in 2002 – but it is difficult to see them regaining that title with him back at the helm. Certainly not this year, at least.

The All Blacks are looking in fine shape to maintain their stranglehold over their opponents having improved since their shock loss to Argentina in August 2022.

They go into this encounter unbeaten in nine, the type of form which is making the rest of the world worry heading into the Rugby World Cup in France.

It was about this time last year when Ian Foster’s job was under serious threat but a victory in South Africa rescued him and, although that aforementioned loss to Argentina followed, New Zealand Rugby just about stuck by their head coach.

Bringing in Jason Ryan and Joe Schmidt has also helped significantly, with the former adding set-piece excellence and the latter an effective attacking structure.

Foster’s charges are ultimately in a much better place than their Aussie counterparts and it is unlikely the hosts will cause an upset on Saturday. Not even a passionate home crowd at Melbourne Cricket Crowd, where 85,000 fans are set to turn up, will be able to influence the result.

Where the game will be won

At the moment, nothing is really working effectively enough for the Wallabies. Their attack showed glimpses against Argentina but they simply did not have enough ball to make it count, with Los Pumas dictating play for most of the 80 minutes. That has resulted in a change in half-backs, with Jones no doubt looking to play with far more pace in attack but also hoping that Carter Gordon in particular finds them better field position.

Australia equally need their forwards to hold up under pressure from the improving All Blacks pack, with New Zealand especially ferocious at the breakdown against the Springboks. The only hope for the hosts is that they can stick with Foster’s men should the visitors begin Saturday’s encounter with the same intent they displayed in Round Two. Despite their incredible opening 20 minutes against South Africa, the All Blacks did fail to maintain that physicality, allowing the Boks to get back into the match before eventually finishing with a flourish.

The Wallabies currently lack the firepower up front to disrupt teams such as New Zealand but in Will Skelton and Rob Valetini they do have two forwards who have the traits to compete with the world’s best. It therefore goes without saying that they need big games on both sides of the ball otherwise the away side will get a consistent supply of quick ball.

Last time they met

What they said

Eddie Jones spent the build-up to the Test trying to irk New Zealanders with a series of barbs in his pre-match press conference.

“There’s nothing better than winning against New Zealand because you feel the country sinking, right?” Jones told reporters.

“It’s not just the rugby that sinks; the country sinks. The whole economy goes down. The prime minister is there with his fingers crossed, hoping the All Blacks win because he knows the economy is going to drop if they lose. So we can have that effect.

“We’re an Australian team, we’re developing as a team. Can we put the Kiwis under pressure on Saturday? Yes.

“And I think some people are going to get a surprise. I can see the way you’re sitting here and thinking, ‘What’s this bloke talking about? How can this Australian team do it?’ The All Blacks have been fantastic for the first two games… but you’re still fans with keyboards, right? Nothing’s changed.”

In contrast, All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown played a straight bat and expects the Wallabies to provide a stern challenge this weekend.

“When they play us, they go up another level, and with Eddie Jones at the helm now, he’ll have a few tricks up their sleeve,” he said.

“They will have stewed on a disappointing couple of weeks for them – they wouldn’t have been sitting comfy in their week off – so we know they’ll bring it to us.

“I don’t doubt they’ll come into the game with plenty of belief.”

Players to watch

No doubt the headline inclusion in the Wallabies’ side was fly-half Carter Gordon, who has replaced the experienced Quade Cooper in the XV. Gordon had a decent cameo against the Springboks in their first Test of the year before stepping in at centre against Argentina a week later. However, this is where the pressure well and truly comes on the pivot. He is a talented playmaker and someone who looks readymade for Test rugby, but the All Blacks will challenge his decision-making skills throughout the match.

Gordon has plenty of quality to utilise outside him and Jordan Petaia’s introduction in the midfield is an interesting one. Petaia is exceptionally talented but unfortunately injury-prone, and he has yet to establish himself in the Test arena. The 23-year-old has also been moved around the backline, with wing and full-back the slots he has generally taken recently. He moves back to 13 for this Test, a position which will see him involved more but it will also challenge him defensively.

Petaia will therefore hope that the forwards do their jobs and are able to get them front foot ball. The gargantuan Will Skelton showed an improvement against Argentina but he will need to step up once again, both in the carrying stakes and at the set-piece. Skelton’s weight is very much needed in the scrum, especially following the All Blacks’ development in the front five over the past 12 months, and he is also useful at the maul, where he is effective in both attack and defence.

Skelton will need to combat New Zealand’s big men, which includes Shannon Frizell, who will look to back up his performance against the Springboks. Quite frankly, we didn’t see that level coming from the flanker but, credit where its due, that was a world-class effort from the 29-year-old. The question is whether he can maintain that form heading into the Rugby World Cup, and this encounter will go some way to determining that.

It is also a key game for his back-row partner Dalton Papalii, who gets a chance because of the injury to Sam Cane. Papalii is a bit unfortunate not to have started so far this year, considering his outstanding form towards the end of 2022, but Foster has continued to back his skipper. So far, Cane has rewarded his head coach’s faith, but the Blues man can still put his captain under pressure by producing a stellar display in Melbourne.

Papalii is one of four players from the Aucklanders’ 2023 squad in the starting XV, with the others Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane and Mark Telea. The first two have been excellent so far but the latter was slightly quiet against the Springboks and will be under pressure for his position, given the depth the All Blacks have in the back three. The injury picked up after the Super Rugby Pacific campaign may have hampered him, but he will certainly be looking for an improvement this weekend.

Main head-to-head

Jones did not just change his fly-half for this encounter, the head coach also made an alteration in the other key decision-making position. Tate McDermott gets a chance to start at scrum-half and, from that selection, it is quite clear what the Wallabies are looking to do. McDermott offers pace around the fringes, an up tempo style at the base of the ruck and, quite simply, an attacking mindset. The key is how he manages the game via the boot.

That is where Aaron Smith certainly has the edge on his Aussie rival. Smith, despite being 34, remains a threat around the ruck, while his support running is as good as ever, but it’s the control and kicking accuracy he brings which sets him apart from McDermott. The legendary scrum-half continues to add to his armoury as he gets towards the latter stages of his career and it will be a big test of the Australian scrum-half’s capabilities on Saturday.

Prediction

The Wallabies will be fired up as they have a point to prove, but ultimately the All Blacks are currently playing too well at the moment. Australia need a bit of luck – whether that be a red card or something else – if they are going to stand a chance, otherwise the visitors will win comfortably. New Zealand by 20 points.

Previous results

2022: New Zealand won 40-14 in Auckland

2022: New Zealand won 39-37 in Melbourne

2021: New Zealand won 38-21 in Perth

2021: New Zealand won 57-22 in Auckland

2021: New Zealand won 33-25 in Auckland

2020: Australia won 24-22 in Brisbane

2020: New Zealand won 43-5 in Sydney

2020: New Zealand won 27-7 in Auckland

2020: New Zealand and Australia drew 16-16 in Wellington

The teams

Australia: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Tom Hooper, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (c), 2 David Porecki, 1 Angus Bell

Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Izaia Perese

New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Jordie Barrett, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea (c), 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ethan de Groot

Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Cam Roigard, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Caleb Clarke

Date: Saturday, July 29

Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground

Kick-off: 19:45 local (10:45 BST, 09:45 GMT)

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Christophe Ridley (England)

TMO: Tom Foley (England)

READ MORE: Winners and losers from New Zealand’s squad to face Australia

The article Australia v New Zealand preview: All Blacks to thrash the Wallabies and win another Rugby Championship title appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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