It’s Round 2 of the Rugby Championship for Australia and New Zealand this Sunday, after much last minute shuffling on both sides of the Tasman. The match which was supposed to be played last weekend had to be postponed due to the two countries recent difficulties with the Delta variant of the pandemic which continues to put the world on hold. The rest of the Rugby Championship is now being played in Australia with all four competing teams, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa taking up residence in Queensland until the beginning of October. It’s also for New Zealand and Australia the final round of the three match annual Bledisloe Cup series, however, with the Cup securely locked away in New Zealand for yet another year, that aspect of Sunday’s competition is simply a dead rubber.
However, Australia’s fortunes in the Rugby Championship are still a long way from being determined with only one round of six played so far. While it is hard to see them springing a surprise on the All Black juggernaut this Sunday in Perth, a credible performance will be high on the agenda and perhaps even better denying New Zealand any bonus points, while gaining a losing bonus point of their own.
For New Zealand, it’s simply a case of business as usual and picking up where they left off. They will want to make a clean sweep of the Bledisloe and get past South Africa who currently sit atop the Rugby Championship standings.
So with everything to play for with albeit different agendas for both sides, here’s what got us talking about Sunday’s dust up in Western Australia.
Australia vs New Zealand – Sunday, September 5th – Perth
An opportunity long overdue but justly earned
Like we say we are absolutely thrilled for All Black No 8 Ardie Savea getting the Captain’s armband for this match and probably more during the course of the Rugby Championship. He has consistently been one of the Lineout’s fan favorites of the last five years. An absolutely rock solid player whose energy level is simply off the charts, he’s also just a really decent lad, and it was clear how much this recognition meant to him when speaking to the press about his recent appointment. Heartfelt congratulations to one of Test Rugby’s most capable, likeable and entertaining players from all of us. Expect Savea to turn up his already turbocharged performances another notch on Sunday as a result and we fear that his opposite number Rob Valetini will struggle to contain the rampaging All Black loose forward. Valetini is no slouch himself and can put in some massive hits, but he is nowhere near the writhing ball of controlled fury that Savea is. Given the fact that Savea can often suck in three or four defenders as they struggle in vain to contain New Zealand’s version of a 100 kg version of a whirling dervish, it could well be a long day at the office for the Australian back row on Sunday.
The brash upstart meets a seriously underrated veteran
Given this is only his 8th cap for his country, Wallaby scrum half Tate McDermott has some very strong opinions on his side’s defensive abilities or lack thereof. While it may appear brash, it’s refreshing to have at least one Wallaby recognize why they are so up the proverbial creek without a paddle at the moment. Given the fact that McDermott is one of the few Wallabies who has impressed so far this year on a consistent basis, then we feel he is justified in airing his frustrations. He no doubt will have been working hard at finding means and ways of addressing such concerns after New Zealand took the Wallabies to the cleaners in the opening match of the Rugby Championship running in eight tries to the Wallabies paltry 3.
The Wallaby scrum half is busy and so much more dynamic than Jake Gordon who till recently has been favored by Wallaby Coach Dave Rennie in finding some new talent for the nine jersey. Australia’s attacks have looked a lot more energetic with McDermott at the helm, though despite his protestations regarding defence, he too has been guilty of the malaise currently affecting Australian rugby. If he can put his money where his mouth is and tighten that up and continue to deliver quick and efficient service to his forwards, he will definitely be a problem for New Zealand on Sunday.
As for his opposite number Brad Weber, we must confess to being surprised that we haven’t seen more of him in the black jersey since he made his debut in 2015. It’s remarkable to think he’s already 31 but only has a mere 10 caps to his name. He has been outstanding for New Zealand side the Chiefs this year and has a wise and capable head on his shoulders, coupled to a blinding turn of pace similar to Wales’ Gareth Davies and Scotland’s Ali Price. Australia will have their hands full keeping him in check and he could well have his opposite number McDermott expressing further frustration regarding Australia’s defensive frailties come the final whistle.
The battle for the All Black 10 jersey continues
It would seem that Richie Mo’unga has made the All Black 10 jersey his, but it’s a role that 2 times World Player of the year Beauden Barrett also clearly relishes. We still can’t determine which is Barrett’s more effective role, fullback or fly half, but there is no denying he is at home in both. It’s his goalkicking that seems to let him down and relegate him to the fullback berth. He is a brilliant playmaker and his kicking game is outstanding, but when it comes to the accuracy needed to slot it between the posts Mo’unga seems to be clearly winning the race. Given the fact that Mo’unga seems able to do everything Barrett can do at 10, Sunday’s match is an important opportunity for Barrett to prove that he is still a key playmaker in the fly half position as New Zealand starts to draw up their World Cup plans.
When you’re big in Japan
Centre Samu Kerevi has been sorely missed by the Wallabies since the lure of top dollar in Japan’s premier league drew him to the land of the rising sun after the 2019 World Cup. His bruising runs and dancing feet have left the Wallabies without a key attacking weapon up the centre channels. Hard to stop and painful to run into at speed, Kerevi will bring a solidity to the Wallabies mid field efforts that has been sorely lacking. The contest between him and New Zealand’s Anton Lienert-Brown will be one of the highlights of the afternoon.
Another one of the Wallabies brash youngsters is quickly making a name for himself for all the right reasons
Although his comments leading up to the last time Australia and New Zealand met were taken slightly out of context, the Wallaby winger let his actions do the talking in the match and in the process was able to silence most of his critics. Like the rest of the team although his defensive skills are relatively ineffectual, there is no denying his ability to cross the whitewash and put big points on the board for Australia. The Wallabies only scored 3 tries to the All Blacks 8 the last time they met, but Kellaway bagged two of them, and in rather spectacular style to boot. He has a keen eye for opportunity and is a slippery runner able to wrong foot defenses with an ease that would indicate more experience than the meager 5 caps he has amassed to date for his country. He may have a lot to say but for the most part seems to have earned the right to make it public. Rieko Ioane returns to the wing for the All Blacks and Kellaway’s defensive skills will be put to the ultimate test. If he can keep the All Black powerhouse in check, then in a ridiculously short space of time he will have delivered a complete game for the Wallabies and surely made the 14 jersey his own.
Few are predicting the Wallabies to win on Sunday, including it would seem the Coaching staff themselves. However, keeping the All Blacks in check and denying them bonus points, while bagging one of their own for a losing bonus point, is clearly something this Wallaby side on home soil should be capable of. It’s a pretty slick All Black side they are up against, but much of what you’re looking at for Australia on Sunday is the future. While it may be rather raw around the edges and battling with the concept of defense, there is no denying its talent. A good performance that sees them be at least competitive, will set them up for the stern test that will be provided by South Africa next weekend.
We doubt that Australia will be the pushover they’ve been to date, and on home soil a bit of that grit and never say die attitude that served them so well this summer against France should see an improvement in overall performance. However, the All Blacks roll into Perth looking to make a whitewash of the Bledisloe as a powerful motivator as well as claim the top of the Rugby Championship as their own and bump their nearest rivals, South Africa down a notch. It should be entertaining whatever happens, and hopefully Australia have stuck more than just band aids on the holes in their defenses since the last time the two met.