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Friday August 23, 2013 MYT 11:22:01 AM
Friday August 23, 2013 MYT 11:23:08 AM
by rajiv maharaj
Australian Wallabies' Quade Cooper (C) looks up as the New Zealand All Blacks players perform the Haka at the start of their Bledisloe Cup rugby test match at Stadium Australia in Sydney August 17, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray
(Reuters) - History suggests it's foolish to bet against the All Blacks at any time, let alone when playing at home in Wellington against a Wallabies side they beat 47-29 only last weekend.
The last time an Australian side beat the All Blacks in New Zealand was in 2001 and only the truly brave would give the Wallabies a fighting chance based on last week's bumbling opening Rugby Championship effort, where they gifted the All Blacks three tries.
That's not to say the All Blacks would not have won easily enough without the benefit of the many Wallabies errors. They were lethal in converting opportunities into points.
It was the prototype modern day All Blacks performance - less possession and territory than the opposition yet almost double the points via counter-attacks based on turnovers.
It's how the All Blacks play rugby nowadays; like a boxer leaning back on the ropes gladly taking body shots knowing he'll finish off the round with a one-punch knockout.
It's a teasing, beautiful and brutally effective winning style. Indeed, the All Blacks need only a sliver of an opportunity - a poor ball presentation or a kick without enough chase - so finely tuned is the team's killer instinct right now.
So much so, in fact, that the bookies and most Australian fans have written off the Wallabies for this weekend's match, which also doubles as the second of three Bledisloe Cup matches (Bledisloe 3 is at Dunedin on October 19).
The Wallabies must win this weekend to keep the series alive. They're understandably desperate, especially new Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie who was appointed as the man most likely to end the team's decade-long Bledisloe Cup drought.
McKenzie has gone with the same backline that sputtered in parts last week, and has retained Matt Toomua at 10 ahead of the more flamboyant, but error prone, Quade Cooper.
McKenzie's selections suggest he does not believe the Wallabies were as bad as last week's scoreline suggests, and he might have a point.
The facts are his team lost by 18 points and gave away 21 points with errors leading to All Black tries - a charged-down kick, a bad read on defence by James O'Connor, and poor ball presentation in the tackle by substitute Tevita Kuridrani.
The score should have been a lot closer notwithstanding the All Blacks' current rich vein of form.
Arguably, there's not a great deal between the sides. Before last week, the last time the All Blacks and Wallabies played the match ended in an 18-all draw. The gap isn't a chasm by any means. It's just that the All Blacks keep winning.
New Zealand's rugby development programme clearly has figured out something nobody else has.
The players it produces, who are all decent enough in Super Rugby, suddenly look faster of thought, foot and hand when picked for the All Blacks.
They react to random opportunities far too clinically for it to be a fluke. Some say they have more rugby nous because of the development offered in the National Provincial Championship. Others point to the All Blacks' in-house shrink, or mental skills coach, Gilbert Enoka.
The Wallabies are fair to okay on the mental skills side of things, though. They might be wobbly but they're also clever when it counts.
Will they find the missing ingredient separating the sides this weekend?
They'd be harsh not to rate their chances based on a closer review of last week's loss. The Wallabies reigned supreme in the line-out (won all their own throws and pressured six out of 13 of the All Blacks'), and Michael Hooper outplayed All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in the loose.
Where the Wallabies erred was in the absence of a long-kicking game for the sidelines.
McKenzie perhaps miscalculated his players' skill levels - the players he picked last week were simply not yet up to running the ball out of their own half with any confidence or control.
Cooper can run with poise from deep - and did just that when he came off the bench - but he comes with risks attached.
By retaining Toomua and Jessie Mogg, both prodigious kickers, McKenzie has essentially conceded that while he picked the right team last week, he got the tactics wrong.
The Wallabies will look to get more out of Israel Folau who made only four runs for a paltry 35 metres last week. By comparison, James O'Connor on the left wing made more than 110 metres from 11 runs.
The All Blacks cleverly kicked towards O'Connor and Mogg, and not to Folau.
The Wallabies are likely to counter that tactic this week by rapidly shifting the ball left to right on kick returns from deep.
At least the Wallabies will be spared an in-form Aaron Cruden who is injured and has been replaced at 10 by Tom Taylor, the son of Warwick Taylor who played 24 tests for the All Blacks in the 1980s.
The younger Taylor is a quality footballer, though, with a 90 percent Super Rugby goal kicking success rate.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has reacted decisively to his team's line-out woes by resting Keven Mealamu and promoting Dane Coles to the bench to share hooking duties with Andrew Hore.
Hansen's selection of sharp-shooting Taylor over Colin Slade, whose kicking form can be erratic, is perhaps another pointer towards a closer scoreline.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)
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