November 2018 Test Matches

New Zealand vs Australia

Saturday, October 27

Venue: Nissan Stadium, Yokohama
Kick-off: 15:00 local (07:00 BST, 06:00 GMT) 08:00 SA Time
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

 

Although this Test is officially not part of the November Tour programme when the teams from the south embark on their annual “Silly Season” invasion of the north, it is being played in the north, Japan to be precise, and so late in October that it should perhaps be considered part of the November programme. The Test is the third and final Bledisloe Cup Test for 2018, with the destination of the trophy already decided and safely back in the trophy cabinet in Wellington.

The All Blacks retained the trophy for the 16th consecutive year when they banked the second of their two Rugby Championship wins over the Wallabies back in August, which suggests that this Test is somewhat superfluous to needs in an already overcrowded international calendar. This Test is effectively a “dead-rubber” game and thus has no real meaning in the overall scheme of things.

Yet both sides will be taking it very seriously.

New Zealand will recall their “dead-rubber” loss to the Wallabies in 2017, and will also remember their loss to the Wallabies the last time they played on Asian soil, back in 2010 in Hing Kong.

The All Blacks will also want to re-assert their dominance of the World Rugby rankings, especially after their two hard-fought Tests against the Springboks that suggested that there are weaknesses in the New Zealand ranks or game plans that others might exploit. Ireland is very close to knocking the All Blacks off the top of the WR rankings, and a loss to Australia on Saturday will make the Irish job that much easier!

Wallaby supporters have endured a horrendous year. A series lost to Ireland in the midyear was followed by a poor Rugby Championships where they managed just two wins and a third place finish that is nothing to be proud of. In effect, they produced just 40 minutes of worthwhile rugby in the entire 2018 season, being the final half of rugby in the second half of the last Rugby Championships game against Argentina. Even that 40 minute period of good rugby was preceded by some of the worst rugby ever played by the Wallabies as the Argentine ran riot in the first half of the same game.

The pressure on coach Michael Cheika has ratcheted up with each passing week as calls for his head have echoed around the empty stadiums of Aussie rugby. He has fought back as only he can, insisting that there is nothing wrong with his selections, his coaching squad, his choice of captain, and his game plans.  So far he has, somehow, managed to retain his job, but a poor November could very well signal the end of the Michael Cheika era.

The All Blacks have much to prove. They want to show the world that they are still the rightful No.1 amongst their peers. They want to show the world that the All Blacks are still the best of the best. A win over the Wallabies is an important start to their end-of-the-year campaign.

The Wallabies have much more to prove. They need to show that those final 40-minutes of the Rugby Championships are what Wallaby rugby is really all about and that everything else was just some sort of aberration. Even more important, perhaps, is their desperate need for something, anything, that will boost the morale of their long suffering supporters and secure the immediate future of their coach.

This Test will be a measure of the Wallaby commitment to fixing what has been so palpably wrong in the last two years.

Selection News:

New Zealand:

Sonny Bill Williams will play in his 50th Test for the All Blacks in Saturday’s third Bledisloe Cup clash in Yokohama. Williams starts in the matchday squad which also features the return of several key players from injury.

Joe Moody returns from his thumb injury and is straight back into the number one jersey, while fellow prop Nepo Laulala is also back, named in the reserves.

Liam Squire returns to the number six jersey while Brodie Retallick will make his return to the second row via the bench.

In other changes from the last Test side, TJ Perenara will start at halfback with Aaron Smith providing cover from the bench.

Ben Smith moves to the right wing to make way for Damian McKenzie at fullback. Matt Todd provides loose forward cover from the bench.

Australia:

Australia head coach Michael Cheika has made four changes, including a positional switch, to his starting XV for Saturday’s Test.

The loss of Reece Hodge to an ankle injury has forced a reshuffle of the back division, with Israel Folau moving to the inside centre berth and giving Sefa Naivalu the opportunity to return to Test rugby on the wing vacated by Folau. Naivalu suffered a serious ankle injury in the last Test he played, in Brisbane in 2017, and he has finally fully recovered from that injury.

Amongst the forwards, Adam Coleman has suffered a groin injury during the week, and will not play this weekend, he is replaced in the starting XV by Rob Simmons in the second row.

Michael Cheika has made two changes to his pack in addition to that forced by Coleman’s withdrawal.

Allan Alaalatoa has been promoted to starting loosehead in place of Taniela Tupou and Folau Faingaa has earned the nod at hooker with Tatafu Polota-Nau unavailable.

The biggest change on the bench is the inclusion of Jack Dempsey.

The back-rower hasn’t played any Super Rugby this season and hasn’t played Test rugby since the third Bledisloe last year, a game in which he won man of the match honours.

He has, however, played almost the entire National Rugby Championship season in his comeback from injury and his form was sufficient for Michael Cheika to call him back into the Wallaby squad.

Samu Kerevi has also been recalled to the bench, despite playing just 30 minutes of rugby – at the Byron Bay Sevens – since June.

One of Pete Samu, Rory Arnold, Tom Banks, Dempsey or Kerevi will be omitted from the 24-man bench.

Thoughts:

During the week I read of Will Genia’s comments that the Wallabies intend to “slow the game to a snail’s pace” to take the sting out of the All Black game plan. He suggested that the Wallabies have a real plan for slowing the All Black breakdown ball and for getting in their faces on defence. In other words, the Aussies are looking to the rush defence as the panacea that will cure their defensive woes against the All Blacks.

We can understand Genia’s desperation for a win against the All Blacks. He has experienced just three wins over the All Blacks in 24 Tests against the team from across the ditch. Along with David Pocock, they are the only Wallabies who have achieved a 3-win record over the All Blacks in the current squad!

(At least Genia has experienced victory over the All Blacks, think of that great Irishman Brian O’Driscoll who never experienced a win in 14 games against the world champions.)

Genia and Pocock are lucky, think also of ex-Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper and Stephen Moore, who suffered a record 24 losses each against the All Blacks

“You get sick and tired of losing to them, but you also love playing them,’ said Genia, as the teams prepared for Saturday night’s test in Japan.

He might have a chance of improving on his win count this weekend.

The All Blacks have something of a reputation for taking the foot off the gas in these Bledisloe dead-rubber games.

Perhaps it was complacency, or a host of injuries, or even simply a lack of focus in their preparations this time last year, but the All Blacks were beaten by Australia in Brisbane in the final Bledisloe Cup encounter of 2017.

Australia, despite having lost the first two Bledisloe Cup tests, were hungrier, sharper, more accurate and more inventive than the All Blacks.

They were desperate, and a desperate Wallaby is a dangerous Wallaby. Somehow they seem to find something extra when the pressure really mounts. Witness that final 40-minutes of their last Test against the Argentine. The half-time “hairdryer” rant by Cheika has assumed almost legendary status.

History also shows that they have raised their game in a number of these dead-rubber Bledisloe games.

They did in 2012. The Wallabies were thumped in the first two tests that year, yet they fought back to draw the third.

In 2014 they were one short minute from an unexpected victory, after dominating the test for 65 minutes, only to be denied by a brilliant Malakai Fekitoa try right at the death. (The All Blacks know how to win games with the final move of the game – Ask the Springboks!)

In 2016 the Wallabies were abysmal in the first two encounters of the series, 42-8 and 29-9, but fought hard in the third Test until a much-debated refereeing call wrestled control away from them early in the second half. After that call the Wallaby fight evaporated and they went down 37-10.

In 2017 history repeated itself. The Wallabies were abysmal in the first Test in Sydney, going down 54-34. They fought hard before fading in the second Test in Dunedin before losing 35-29. And then they secured that memorable win in Brisbane 23-18.

The pattern is obvious, the Wallabies seem to need to be a little desperate after losing the Bledisloe trophy yet again, and then they somehow manage a vastly improved performance.

And we can be sure that they are desperate again.

The problem is that they are facing an All Black team that has something of a point to prove. After a loss and a very very close game in their two Tests against the Springboks there has been plenty of talk about the All Blacks being on the brink of losing their status as the top side in World Rugby rankings. There has been plenty of talk about Ireland’s opportunity to take the top spot during the looming November Test season. They play New Zealand on the 17th November in Dublin. Just one week after the All Blacks face off against England, where Eddie Jones has had much to say about dethroning the champions!

The New Zealand media has also asked all kinds of questions about the current All Black squad, and some of those questions just carry a little bit of a sting. There has been talk about the All Blacks being unable to adjust their game and style to deal with the pressure of a rush defensive strategy and being deprived of space by their opponents. There have been suggestions that the All Blacks cannot play structured rugby……… Steve Hansen’s strategies have been questioned.

Will Genia has suggested that the All Blacks struggle when they are forced to play structured rugby instead of their preferred open unstructured running game. He said that the Wallabies have been working on defensive structures designed to force the All Blacks to play a different style of rugby, to play a slower, structured game.

Sadly, I am not sure that forcing the All Blacks to play a slower, grinding style of rugby is a clever move by the Wallabies. The All Blacks have a pack of forwards that can and does dominate the tight exchanges. They are also very capable of seizing control of broken play and grinding out the hard yards if that is what is required of them.

In contrast the Wallaby pack has seemed a little lightweight all season. Sure, they have manned up in the scrums, but that is about it. Their lineouts have been atrocious, and their broken play has revolved around just one man, David Pocock. Pocock’s fellow loosies have preferred to play a wide, loose game, hanging out of the tough stuff and ranging wide on the outside of the field. Lukhan Tui was supposed to add some muscle in the close exchanges, but he is not there this week. He is replaced by the lightweight Ned Hanigan, who simply does not have the game at this level.

The loss of Adam Coleman will hurt too. He has been one of their primary ball carriers in 2018, and has been their most reliable lineout forward in a unit that simply has not fired this year.

At the back the Wallabies have lost their form player, Reece Hodge, to a broken ankle. He has been the one Wallaby back that has impressed in 2018, with total commitment and focus in both attack and defence.

This All Black outfit bristles with firepower, from Damian McKenzie at the back, to Smith and Ioane on the wings, Crotty in the midfield, and Barrett and Perenara at halfbacks. Perhaps the one player who has not been at his best in the last weeks has been Sonny Bill Williams, which suggests he has a personal point to prove!

The forward unit looks as solid as it can be, with Ardie Savea stepping in for the injured Sam Cane and Joe Moody back in the front row.

The other worry for any Wallaby supporter has to be the lack of real penetration and finishing in the back division. You can defend all you like, but you still have to score more points than the All Blacks if you want to win a Test.

The real difference between the two teams is perhaps most evident when we look at the quality of the reserve bench. The All Blacks have names like Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick, Matt Todd, and Richie Mo’unga itching to get onto the field…..

Comparatively, the Wallaby bench seems a little short of game time.

Prediction:

Dead-rubber maybe, but I believe there is simply far too much on the line for the All Blacks to be taking this game lightly. They will be fully focussed on the job at hand.

This spells danger for a Wallaby outfit that has misfired all season, save for one short 40-minute spell against the Argentine.

Some suggest that this is an “experimental” All Black team. I struggle with that idea as I do not see anything other than a bunch of salted warriors. There is no identifiable weakness in the team.

The Wallabies have a team that has taken two blows this week as they lost stalwarts Coleman and Hodge. The non-availability of Lukhan Tui does not help the cause either.

I know that the pattern of the past suggests that the Wallabies have a chance, but sheer logic says that they are going to get beaten by this All Black outfit, and roundly so.

The All Blacks, by 20 points or more.

The Teams:

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown

Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Faingaa, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Samu Kerevi, 24 Tom Banks