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April 19, 2007 at 9:11 am #10477
Australia knows it as The Bundy Test – NZ prefers the Anzac Test. But whatever you want to call it, she’s all on come Friday night.
When the Kiwis run out onto Suncorp Stadium on Friday night, they will be fielding two players over the age of 25. With the retirements of Ruben Wiki, Nigel Vagana and Stacey Jones, they lose a ton of experience. Whilst the selectors were quite open about building towards the next World Cup, the reality is that they had little choice after deciding to not select British based players, and with a huge injury toll on their hands.
On the other hand, whilst the Australians are missing the likes of Greg Inglis, Mark Gasnier and Luke O’Donnell through injury, they have managed to once again put out a formidable line up. The decision to drop Mark O’Meley is a bizarre one, but is also testimony to the fact that there are plenty of Australians with the ability to cut it at the top level.
In picking six Broncos – who have not been anywhere near their best in 2007 – the Australian selectors are looking to play a settled side. But with their chief playmakers Thurston and Lockyer only being in average form, this could also be playing with fire.
The key to this game may well lie in the hands of Cameron Smith. He is the form #9 in the NRL at the moment, provides Australia with a top goal kicking option, and his ability to run out of dummy half is second only to his kicking from the ruck area. If the Kiwis fail to shut him down, the score could be astronomical.
The selection of Parramatta’s Krisnan Inu was a massive shock for everyone. Probably including Inu. There is no harm in trying out an enthusiastic youngster at all- who knows what could happen? The danger lies however in not having a second option if things do fall apart. If Inu is badly exposed and needs to be replaced, which is a possibility, there is no obvious candidate to take over at fullback.
By the same token, in a team that needs as much experience as they can get their hands on, the decision to leave Paul Whatuira out of the 17 is extremely strange. In attempting to match up Manu Vatuvei with Simon Mannering, they have sacrificed Whatuira for Iosia Soliola, who is struggling to hit top gear in a battling Roosters side.
The game plan for Australia will be fairly copybook – run straight, make the Kiwis tackle all night, hold the ball, then try to split them open from dummy half through the last half hour. They will also look to turn the Kiwi wingers inside out, and put as much pressure as possible on the likes of Webster and Vatuvei. The kicking games of Thurston, Lockyer and Smith are paramount – if they are off target, the Kiwis will look to attack through broken play.
The Kiwis have a big forward pack, and will be looking to match it with the Australians early on. But that could lead to danger. If they try to out-macho the Kangaroos, they will have been sucked in.
And you can’t help but feel that the Kiwis are once again lacking a tactical kicking game. Ben Roberts is still learning his trade, Benji Marshall can be hit and miss in that area, and, well, that’s about it really.
The Kiwis will be relying heavily on Sonny Bill Williams to make some play. His ability to offload in the tackle should see the little men running off his shoulder all night, but if they fail to do so, then all of SBW’s work will be in vain.
There is some exciting new talent on show on Friday night, and a lot of that is based in the Kiwis squad. The likes of Eastwood, Rapira and Inu are completely untried at this level, but all signs are pointing to fairly lengthy stints in the black and white jersey.
But when it comes to the crunch, it is hard to see the experience and talent available to the Australian selectors not coming through.
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