Sunday, October 16, 2011
The Sunday semi - Australia versus New Zealand
It's going to be a long day today, but with church, visitors for lunch, blogging and time in the garden (if the rain stops) we should be able to fill it in. We're sure though that it will be an even longer day for the young and not-so-young men of the Wallabies and the All Blacks as they wait for tonight's 9pm kick-off at Eden Park.
Had Ireland not spoiled Australia's party four weeks ago, this match-up would be taking place tonight; Australia would have played Wales last weekend, with the survivor meeting France last night. Australia versus New Zealand was seeded by the IRB as the Final.
And that's what people have been saying in the last few days; this is "really" the RWC final. No; it's not; it's a winner-take-all semi-final, and nothing more. There will be no cup awarded after the final whistle tonight; the winners have to do it all over again next week. It's arrogant to suggest otherwise.
There are so many "hoodoos" surrounding this game; we've never beaten them at a World Cup; New Zealand chokes in semi-finals. On the other hand, the first RWC tournament hadn't even been played the last time Australia won on Eden Park (1986). That all counts for nowt tonight; the scoreboard starts at nil-all, and nothing else matters but what it says at the final whistle.
We'll get it out in the open now; we believe that New Zealand will win tonight, and will win with a degree of comfort; here's why.
The loss of Kurtley Beale is as big a blow to Australia as the loss of Dan Carter to New Zealand. But Dan Carter was ruled out of the tournament two weeks ago, and the All Blacks have had time to adjust. Up until yesterday, the Australians were training on two game-plans; New Zealand has had far more certainty going into the game. And the absence of Beale simply heaps pressure both on his replacement Adam Ashley-Cooper, and Quade Cooper, who might now have to do some defending, which is not his strong suit.
That's not all, of course. We believe that the All Black forwards are superior to their Australian counterparts AS A PACK. The Australians may have individuals with better skills than the man they are marking, but collectively, the All Blacks are the superior unit.
Much tonight will depend on how referee Craig Joubert, one of the most improved referees on the scene polices the breakdown. Bryce Lawrence allowed a free-for-all in the loose last week, and it was galling to hear Australian commentators praising Dan Vickerman for taking out Heinrich Brussow at a ruck with a shoulder charge. Joubert will have to be vigilant at the breakdown to retain control of the match, because the New Zealanders will have a low threshhold for cheap shots. The battle between Richie McCaw and David Pocock will be a highlight; even on one good foot, McCaw is a world-class loose forward, as is Pocock. And the All Blacks will relish the aggression that Jerome Kaino brings; his absence in Brisbane was telling.
With Beale out, there's little between the two backlines. Much will depend on the quality of ball the respective halfbacks receive, and that will be dictated by who wins the forward contest; you already have our thoughts on that! Will Genia and Cooper were rattled last week by the South Africans, and the New Zealand forwards will look to inflict further mental misery this week. Piri Weepu is in the form of his life, and Aaron Cruden will take confidence into the most important game of his life. Turn the clocks back to 30 April; week 11 of Super Rugby; Cruden had a storming game against the Queensland Reds in Wellington, closing the match out with a last-gasp penalty. That match was the turning point of Aaron Cruden's season, and he will draw positives from it tonight.
We also reckon that New Zealand now has the edge in midfield with the "old firm" of Smith and Nonu up against McCabe and Fainga'a, both of whom have had significant injuroes during the tournament. And out wide, the All Blacks have every bit as much pace as Australia now with Beale absent; possibly even more. And lastly, we reckon that there's greater depth on the New Zealand bench.
We can't wait for 9pm to roll around; we have a really good feeling about tonight's match that can't be put into words. There's just a sense that Graham Henry and co have timed their run to perfection. In about 15 hours' time, we'll know if we were right.