A convincing win for the All Blacks, and it's now eight straight wins for Ted Henry, and eight straight losses for Aussie Bob. Seven tries to three was a pretty convincing margin and a fair reflection of the All Blacks' all-round dominance. It's a third straight bonus point victory, and barring a major turnaround in form, the Tri-Nations is pretty much done and dusted. We'll have a decent look at the match in the morning, but the bed is beckoning now!
For those of us whose memories stretch back to the early 1960's (as ours do) or even beyond, the Springboks will always be our #1 rugby rival. For the younger readers, who cut their teeth during the period when South Africa was isolated from the rugby world, the natural enemy is more likely to be Australia.
By the 1970's, the Bledisloe Cup was seldom seen. However the New Zealand and Australian rugby boffins dragged the old girl out of hiding in the 1980's, and more regular contests between the trans-Tasman neighbours ensued. We reckon that it's fair to say that Australia benefitted more from that then the All Blacks did.
But the Bledisloe Cup is now a keenly-fought contest between New Zealand and Australia. With at least three matches annually due to the inflated Tri-Nations, one or other side gets an advantage year about in terms of home games, and this season, the Wallabies host the All Blacks twice. If Aussie Bob's boys are to break a long losing streak, logic suggests that this is the year in which to do it.
We don't reckon that Australia will win tonight though. Both sides were impressive against a disappointing Springbok outfit, although there was a big difference in quality between the Bok side that lined up in Auckland, and the dejected side that couldn't get out of Brisbane quickly enough. We reckon that last week's scoreline flattered Australia.
Like all test matches, this one will be won or lost up front. The All Black tight five was very strong against South Africa, and man-for-man look to have the wood on their Wallaby opponents. Over the last couple of years the All Blacks have attacked Australia at the lineout where they have looked vulnerable, and we would expect the All Blacks to have an edge at scrum-time, although we acknowledge that the Australians have improved in this area of the game.
The loose forward battle will be pivotal, and much of the challenge for the AB's will be to contain Will Genia. If they can put some pressure on the Australian halfback, they will go a long way towards disrupting the Wallabies' flow. There's little doubt too that large All Black forwards will run hard with ball in hand towards the slight Australian inside combination of Giteau and Barnes, and there is plenty of potential to launch attacks from a go-forward platform.
The big variable is going to be the Etihad Stadium pitch, and we can but wait and see what state it's in after an AFL match last night. But heck, who expected the All Blacks to run in long-range tries against South Africa on a rain-and-windswept Cake Tin track a fortnight ago? We don't believe that underfott conditions will inhibit the All Black's attacking approach too much.
This should be another enjoyable match, and we'd frankly be surprised if Robbie Deans' seven-match losing streak against the AB's was broken. We expect the All Blacks to win, and to win with some style. Our biggest regret is that we'll be in Melbourne NEXT weekend, and not tonight! Ah well ....