It's a dead rubber between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in Hong Kong tonight in terms of the Bledisloe Cup. But with the Rugby World Cup final now less than a year away, there's a whole lot at stake for both teams.
The Wallabies will be desperate to turn around a 10-match losing sequence against Graham Henry's men. It all started so well for Robbie Deans with a win over Henry's men in 2008, but since then it's literally been All Black. In the late 1990's and the early 2000's, the Australians had developed an annoying habit of winning the close matches, often at the very last moment. Thankfully, sanity has returned! On the other hand, the goal of a perfect test match season is just five matches away for the All Blacks, with this match shaping as the biggest hurdle.
Both sides are treating this match seriously, and have named full-strength sides. Australia welcomes back Ben Alexander and Drew Mitchell, but we reckon that the All Blacks will gain far more from the return of Daniel Carter. Our only doubt there is over Carter's ability to last 80 minutes; we're not fans of Stephen Donald, and if Carter runs out of puff, we hope that the match is safe before he is subbed.
Neither side has played together since the last Tri-Nations match, so it will be a test of the respective preparations. Both coaches are meticulous in this regard, as evidenced by the haste with which Henry was trying to get back to his squad in Auckland last weekend to maximise his time with them! But there are likely to be mistakes early on, and one thing that Henry's team has done very well this season is to capitalise on mistakes.
The Hong Kong heat and humidity will test both sides. A number of the All Blacks have had a lean diet of rugby over the last six weeks. I guess that by midnight tonight we'll know if that was a good thing or not. By the same token though, the Wallabies lack strong competition below Super Rugby.
After a hiatus from test match rugby, following such an entertaining season, we are really looking forward to tonight's match. We'll endeavour to blog throughout, and will doubtless have some thoughts in the morning; hopefully we'll be reflecting on another All Black victory.