Well, although for family reasons I am obliged to say that the soccer world cup is far from over, nothing stops me from pointing out that a) it is stating the obvious to say that the refereeing in that game is an absurd relic of the pre-television age, b) I would rather watch the Novotel Australian Schools Championship, especially when NSW I loses to QLD II and QLD I lose to NSW II, and c) who cares anyway when there is a Bledisloe Cup to win?
I don’t actually have much to say about this game, since I have already said it when talking about Ireland, except how much I am looking forward to it! Clearly, as every man and his dog seems to be saying, the three-quarters will be very important and Muliana will have his work cut out for him and then some. But so what, important as that is, both this battle and the war will be won up front, both in the set-pieces and the breakdowns. Everyone knows that, which is why no-one seems to be talking about it anymore.
There, on the strength of three largely inconclusive matches, Australia look stronger than I (for one) would have dared believe six months ago. Whether they are or not, well, that is what those black-dressed snowmen are about to tell us. If we really are that much better, then Tana Umaga couldn’t save the All Blacks let alone Mils Muliana. If we aren’t, then it probably won’t matter who play three-quarters or anywhere else past there. If we fall somewhere inbetween that much better and not that much better, then it will come down to the backs, and there is a lot more than just the three-quarters to play for.
There is George Gregan, first, who in my opinion benefits enormously from an occasionally few minutes on the bench, vs Byron Kelleher. The problem for Kelleher is that his biggest asset is being big and strong, but Gregan is probably the biggest-defending half-back in the world. If, however, Kelleher does get on top of Gregan then Cordingley, with his direct-running aggressive game, would be about the best possible person to bring on. The beauty is, he’s on the bench J.
Secondly there is what the backline purists must really be looking forward to, the greatest current fly-half versus the best current fly-half for, unbelievably, the first time. My tip? Australia doesn’t play that way anymore – if we get our game in order, it is just as often Gregan, Smith or Rogers who stands in at first receiver so it isn’t really as much a question of who is the better fly-half as who is the better meneur du jeu (leader of the game), and I tip Larkham, surrounded by Gregan, Mortlock and Latham, to have an unfair advantage over Carter. If Carter does come out on top, it will be a phenomenal performance by him, and a credit to him, and, I suspect, the NZ back-row.
Thirdly there is the outer backs, with NZ having flashier runners, imho, but Australia having ‘harder’ runners, who have also been in better form lately. So there too I prefer Australia. Which just emphasizes how much it will come down to the battle up front, both in the set-pieces and the breakdowns.
I guess I just don’t know whilst I feel that it will be a great, but even, match in the set-pieces, here I just don’t know. What I do know is that a) this has been easily our weakest area recently, b) this is NZ’s classic strength in the era of Richie McCaw, and c) this is going to be a really crucial part of Saturday’s game. Of course, if we actually lose the scrums, it will hardly matter, but if we are at least competitive there as I am sure we will be, it matters a lot. If we do lose, touch wood, I think it will be here.
Well, there are my few, slightly disjointed, thoughts. Fwiw, I’ll go out on a limb and say Australia 36 20 NZ. After all, I am hopelessly and irremediably biased”¦