Rugby: Wallabies side named for 1st Bledisloe clash

Ewen McKenzie has named the following line up to take on the All Blacks this weekend:

1. James Slipper (vc – Queensland Reds)
2. Nathan Charles (Western Force)
3. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
4. Sam Carter (ACT Brumbies)
5. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
6. Scott Fardy (ACT Brumbies)
7. Michael Hooper (c – NSW Waratahs)
8. Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs)
9. Nic White (ACT Brumbies)
10. Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs)
11. Rob Horne (NSW Waratahs)
12. Matt Toomua (ACT Brumbies)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (vc – NSW Waratahs)
14. Pat McCabe (ACT Brumbies)
15. Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs)

Reserves*

James Hanson (Queensland Reds)
Pek Cowan (Western Force)
Ben Alexander (ACT Brumbies)
Will Skelton (NSW Waratahs)
Ben McCalman (Western Force)
Scott Higginbotham (Melbourne Rebels)
Nick Phipps (NSW Waratahs)
Bernard Foley (NSW Waratahs)
Tevita Kuridrani (ACT Brumbies)

*one player to be omitted

Beale in ahead of Foley is a strange selection for mine whilst the selection of McCabe and Horne on the wings is an obvious pointer to the intent with wish McKenzie hopes his troops will play the game and obviously strengthens the team defensively.

Bledisloe Cup: Game 2 Keys to Victory

Game 2 of the Bledisloe cup kicks off very shortly and here are my keys to victory:

1. 4th choice fly half?

Tom Taylor comes in at fly half for the All Blacks following injuries to Messrs Carter, Cruden and Barrett. He is a young player who has spent a large part of the domestic season at inside centre. He has been picked ahead of the Highlanders Colin Slade and the Australian’s have been overt in their intention to place as much pressure as possible on him. If he performs well then the All Blacks machine will march on one suspects.

2. O’Connor factor

I mentioned in my keys to victory for the first test that the battle between O’Connor and Smith would be a key to success in that game and so it proved with Smith, frankly, playing O’Connor off the break last time out. One can expect that the All Blacks will direct most of their attack to O’Connor’s wing again and if he is the turnstile he was in the first test match the All Blacks will likely win.

3. The Master v The Apprentice

In my preview last week I dared to question Richie McCaw’s fitness and, yet again, I was proven wrong with Lord McCaw putting on a classic display of ruck and running play. He is the best forward in the game without question at the moment. In the gold jersey opposing him is Michael Hooper: a young man on the rise with a significant reputation as a dynamo at number 7. If Hooper can play to his reputation and best Lord McCaw here that will go a long way to an Australian win. Conversely, a McCaw masterpiece will again rest the game to the All Blacks favour.

4. Battle of the Benches

The bench for the All Blacks is the least experienced it has been for a long time. At the same time the Wallabies have a number of experienced charges to call on in the event of an injury, particularly in the form of Quade Cooper who, one suspects, will play a large part in the second half when the opposition forwards are tired and the gaps are opening up.

This will be another exciting contest and, after the thrashing the All Blacks gave the Wallabies in the first test, the Wallabies will be looking for some redemption and to keep the series alive for the 3d test in October at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Bledisloe Cup: First Test Talking Points

The All Blacks came to Sydney looking to keep a great record at ANZ Stadium intact and they will leave satisfied with a dominant 47-29 victory over the disappointing Wallabies.

Here are my talking points from what was a cracking game of rugby no matter the result:

1. Three men called Smith

They won’t get as many of the plaudits as some of their contemporaries but the games of Aaron Smith, Conrad Smith and Ben Smith were nothing short of outstanding. Aaron Smith bested Will Genia and that is saying something given that he is the best in the world. There is no better defensive centre in the game than Conrad Smith and he showed it again tonight. Ben Smith played James O’Connor off the break for the 53 minutes they were opposed and scored a hatrick of tries. Massive games for the 3 men called Smith.

2. Lord McCaw is back

Love him or hate him Richie McCaw is probably the best player in the game and he again showed that tonight. Off the back of his sabbatical I questioned his fitness and of course he proved me and any others who dared to question him wrong. He did get penalised more than usual in this game much to joy of Australian fans and those playing a certain drinking game.

3. Cruden factor: Who needs Dan Carter?

When Dan Carter first got hurt many Australian fans would have breathed a sigh of relief. Frankly, his replacement Aaron Cruden was just brilliant tonight and really the question needs to be posed: should he have been selected for the All Blacks as the first choice fly half. For mine he should have been and he showed why in this game. Injured at the 70th minute mark All Blacks fans will watch his rehab closely.

4. O’Connor = non-factor

I get why James O’Connor was selected for Australia. He does have an X factor about him that one suspects could swing a game. The problem is that we so rarely see it we don’t know what it looks like! Starting on the wing he just looked out of place and behind the pace and seemed to rarely be in position. Was moved to full back in place of Jesse Mogg at the 55 minute mark and whilst he was enterprising in patches was mainly innocuous. A late try should not mask how poor his performance was. Performances by O’Connor are not matching the reputation or alleged class he has and now is the time for a change!

5. James Slipper: Australia’s best

There was much consternation from those south of the tweed about the selection of James Slipper in the place of Benn Robison and boy did Slipper play a game and a half. Whether it was in the scrum, in close contact or running out in the backs James Slipper was in everything in this game. At scrum time he was the best of any prop on the field for mine and will grow in confidence from that performance.

6. New Scrum Law = why did we need a change?

This was the first many Southern Hemisphere fans will have seen of the new scrum laws and can anyone say they were happy with them? If the idea behind the law change is to make the scrums better and more contested then they have failed dismally frankly! The new process of pre-binding seems to slacken the engagement and make it virtually impossible to feed the ball straight. Well done IRB: another worthless change softening the game!

7. Give McKenzie some time: the early signs are good!

I know the result would suggest otherwise but I take away some confidence from this game. That confidence comes from some obvious influences of Ewen McKenzie seen in the Wallabies in this game. The run in the forwards, a McKenzie haul mark in Queensland, particularly the props running in the line, was excellent to see. This team is a work in progress and will improve with time. Anyone expecting immediate results needs to wake up to themselves!

New Zealand were simply too good in this game. The return bout between these two teams is in seven days in Wellington (assuming the ground is safe for play). Much improvement needed for the Wallabies even to get close frankly!

Bledisloe Cup: Keys to Victory

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!

Rugby Union: Wallabies team to face the All Blacks announced

Ewen McKenzie has named his team for the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney this weekend.

The full team is:

Jesse Mogg, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, James O’Connor, Matt Toomua, Will Genia, Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Hugh McMeniman, James Horwill (C), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Saia Faingaa, Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, Scott Fardy, Liam Gill, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani

Coach McKenzie has made seven (7) changes to the run on side that Australia last ran out against the British and Irish Lions on 6 July 2013. There are eleven changes in all from the time Robbie Deans last picked a team.

Breaking Rugby News: Dan Carter out of the Bledisloe Cup

In breaking news out of Wellington Dan Carter, New Zealand’s star number 10, has been injured in training and scans have showed a small tear in his calf. He will be out for up to four weeks which will mean he will be unavailable for both Bledisloe Cup fixtures that form part of the Rugby Championship.

Aaron Cruden presents as the obvious replacement for Carter and given Cruden’s excellent form for the Super Rugby Champion Chiefs that could prove to be less of a blessing for Australia than one would expect to receive from a player of Carter’s stature being sidelined.