Wallabies on notice in Auckland cauldron
August 19, 2014
Matt Toomua (above) is an important foil for Kurtley Beale, according to Greg Growden © Getty Images
In Wallabyland it's digging the heels in time. In spite of public calls that after blowing their big moment in Sydney, Ewen McKenzie should give the New South Wales Waratahs backline contingent - in particular Bernard Foley at No. 10 and Kurtley Beale at No. 12 - a go in Auckland, the Wallabies coach showed faith in those who fell just short last Saturday.
It's no surprise, and certainly understandable, that McKenzie has stuck with the same 23-man contingent for the Auckland venture, because he has always been one who wants his own distinctive brand placed upon a team.
He has absolutely no interest in just running out the Waratahs lineup, and comprehends how imperative it is to provide an element of surprise in Bledisloe Cup encounters. That's why he will stick with Beale as his prime playmaker, because he is one of the few Australian players the All Blacks are uncertain about, and actually respect.
McKenzie also knows that when Beale and Israel Folau replicate what they did at Super Rugby level this season at Test level, anything is possible … a Bledisloe Cup triumph even. But Beale does need Matt Toomua as a foil and that midfield combination is worthy of a second try.
Nonetheless some players are lucky to still be there, in particular scrum-half Nic White, who fell into his old Brumbies habit of box kicking too much. Nick Phipps is now seriously hovering, and White will have to pick up his act to ensure that he enjoys longevity in the Wallabies No. 9 garb.
Wycliff Palu must also be more assertive. Although playing reasonably well in the second half in Sydney, Palu was too quiet early on - and that happens far too often with him in Bledisloe Cup matches. While impressive in many Tests appearances, the All Blacks have regularly been able to stifle Palu. Bledisloe Cup stouches are when a No. 8 has to reign supreme, and be sighted every minute, not just occasionally.
The Wallabies tight five also must show that they can back up against the All Blacks. They did hold up well in Sydney, which got all the team apologists very, very excited. But it doesn't mean anything if they don't go the next step, and do it week in, week out. Too often, the Wallabies pack has a good performance against the All Blacks, suddenly think they're He-Men, and then straight after, fall into their old habits and their heads get unceremoniously shoved right up their posteriors.
Wallabies winger Rob Horne recalls his first Test against the All Blacks
And as was shown with the Argentinean pack trouncing a formidable Springboks scrum in Pretoria last weekend, it is only going to get tougher for the Wallabies eight the longer the Rugby Championship goes on.
Then there's the importance of cool, precise direction. The Wallabies struggled to stay clear-headed in Sydney, and when under pressure their leadership was very wonky. Ignoring easy points via field and penalty goals was insane. It will be even tougher to be clear minded in Auckland. The tension will be at times unbearable - even in the lead up to kick-off.
One is reminded of former Wallabies prop Glenn Panoho's most vivid memory of Australia's horrible 34-15 loss to New Zealand in Auckland in 1999.
"I remember when I arrived in Auckland and went to an automatic teller machine. I put in my card and up flashed three All Black front rowers. I just couldn't get away from them," Panoho said.
As the Wallabies will discover, in Sydney you can hide away and get some normality, some balance in your life. But in Auckland, you simply can't get away from them - that fearsome All Black beast, which incorporates players, officials and their relentless supporters. It's no wonder they haven't lost at Eden Park since 1994.
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