By The Spotter
Writing previews is a tough task at the best of times. I have nothing particularly enlightening to say in this one and if I’m honest, I’ve almost forgotten what a game of Rugby looks like due to an Olympic overdose. However…
If Michael Cheika and the Wallabies want to put the wind up the All Blacks in Sydney tonight, you would think they would be looking to zero in on the fulcrum of the whole ABs operation. That being halfback Aaron Smith. Smith is just so damn good at never letting the opposition to settle into a cohesive defensive unit. Central to being able to do this is the pace with which Smith does everything, be it scooting away and linking with supports down the blindside, accelerating into gaps after a lightning-fast tap and go from a penalty or in just being seemingly everywhere.
The Welsh at times in those June tests harried Smith pretty mercilessly, resulting in some rather injudicious decision-making and a couple of dicey passes made within range of the All Blacks’ tryline in the last encounter. Watch for the Wallabies then to go out with a real plan to make his night an abject one. And don’t forget the Ockers will still be smarting from the 3-0 series whitewash against the English. They should be up for this and some.
Outside Smith, Beauden Barrett, although he is in the form of his life, will probably not take long to realise that a test match in Sydney against the cornered marsupials will be many steps up from the third Wales test and the recent Super Rugby Final. And if Beaudie doen’t happen to set the world alight or heaven forbid, we lose; will sports talkback switchboards light up like Christmas trees on Sunday morning? Probably.
And I don’t expect our midfield to cave in to the free-running Folau or whoever else may have a crack. Some journos seem too unduly worried and would almost have us think we’ve got a Buller second-five and a Thames Valley centre lining up in the middle. Crotty and Fekitoa have been part of the All Blacks’set-up for a good while now, they still appear hungry enough and skilled enough for this level and they will be surely as well-drilled as ever. They are hardly unknown to each other, either.
Good to see a bit of Chiefs beef in the form of Kane Hames in the squad. The way that the bull-necked Hames can drive players back will make any slippery Aussies think twice about pouring through any openings in our lineout or running off the ruck.
Finally, with Nathan Harris a late withdrawal with an unfortunate season-ending injury, Codie Taylor cedes to the starting hooker spot. You would expect us to lose nothing with that swap- Taylor gets around the park like a fourth loose forward and has quite the physical presence at the breakdown.
I won’t hazard at an exact score prediction as it is an exercise in complete futility, along with the fact I am bound to make a pig’s ear of it. A lot of variables (not least the Sydney factor), point towards a narrow Australian victory. But the All Blacks will win.