Game 1 of the Rugby Championship tonight and there is no bigger contest than that between the Wallabies and the All Blacks which also doubles as the first of three Bledisloe Cup games.
Here are my keys to victory for tonight’s game:
1. Wild Horses
Even McKenzie has named 10 Brumbies in his first Wallabies line up since taking over from Robbie Deans. Obviously this is a play for consistency and combination in the team. The Brumbies were the best team from the Australian conference of Super Rugby and if they can replicate that form on the biggest stage that will put Australia in prime position in this game.
2. The Cruden factor
Aaron Cruden comes into the All Blacks lineup in place of Dan Carter who has a calf injury. Cruden is a different style of fly half to Carter: he is more direct where Carter could be described as sublime. Equally Cruden got the better of Carter in the semi final of Super Rugby and then led his Chiefs team to victory against the Brumbies in the final. A solid game for Cruden will go a long way to securing an All Blacks victory.
3. Lord Richie: fitness a question?
The All Black’s captain is three games back from his sabbatical and I wonder if his match fitness is a little lacking? He only appeared off the bench in the Super Rugby play offs and played only 40 minutes of a practice game last Friday. There must be a question mark over his fitness. His presence on the field is a massive plus for the All Blacks but if he can not make it through the full 80 minutes every minute he is off the field will be to Australia’s advantage.
4. O’Connor v Smith
Bizarre as it maybe to suggest that the battle between two wingers might settle the outcome of this game, it seems to me that one of the ways the All Blacks will look to attack the Wallabies will be in the air aimed at J O’Connor. This is particularly so given the prowess of the former AFL player on the other wing in a gold jersey. If O’Connor can shut down the likely All Blacks aerial assault on his wing, other options will need to be looked at by the All Blacks.
5. The Sydney Hoodoo
ANZ Stadium has not been a good hunting ground for the Wallabies having lost six of their last seven fixture at the venue. Included in that is three consecutive losses at the venue against the All Blacks. They will need to break that hoodoo obviously to win here!
This will be a cracking game of rugby: my heart says the Wallabies and my head says the All Blacks. In just under 4 hours we will know which part of me was right!