The challenge for Michael Cheika and his players to turn around the devastating defeat in Sydney into victory against the All Blacks this week in Wellington is monumental. In this article, we list five key factors which may decide whether Cheika chokes or chortles watching on in the stands on Saturday.
Cheika’s selection of Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley at flyhalf and centre is brave, and their success will depend on whether their forwards are able to protect them enough to give them time to weave their magic. Jerome Kaino’s marauding charge down in the first half spooked Foley, and Cooper is an even more mentally fragile target. Both Foley and Cooper have struggled for consistency throughout their careers but have also had games where they dominated, such as Foley’s 28 point knockout blow against England in the 2015 World Cup.
Showers and that gusty Wellington wind are forecast for Saturday. Beauden Barrett is a Wellington local and played some huge games in the Super 18 in atrocious weather. Quade Cooper’s impressive agility means he will probably adjust -but will others around him be able to follow his entrepreneurial train of thought or speed of feet? Or will they be stuck in the mud?
3. Front loading
This is the mysterious term coined by Sam Whitelock during the halftime interview in last week’s game. After extensive research we have decoded the term as meaning ‘going forward.’ Front loading therefore, is not too complex to understand but more difficult to attain against the All Blacks, who swamped the Wallabies in Sydney and will do so again unless Michael Cheika comes up with a way to halt the wave and generate some of their own front loading.
Kieran Read was able to offload five times in last week’s test. As a team the All Blacks offloaded 28 times to the Wallabies meagre 6. It is easier said than done but the Wallabies must make first up tackles and try to slow down the play so that their breakdown ball winners Michael Hooper and especially David Pocock can work their magic. Beauden Barrett will be another tackling target. Barrett, who many are singling out as the world’s best current player, was able to beat seven defenders and make four clean breaks last week. If the Aussies can somehow stifle the Barrett flair, the pressure may intensify on the All Blacks’ inexperienced midfielders, debutant Anton Lienert-Brown and Malakai Fekitoa. Don’t count (or bet) on it.
The Wallabies’ handling was atrocious in Sydney and they also lost 30% of their lineouts. If they fail to improve in these areas, the All Blacks will run them off their feet with their superior fitness, pace of play and switches of play. The Wallabies simply cannot match the All Blacks’ one to fifteen speed and skills and will therefore aim to slow the game down and be more protective of their possession in an attempt to stop or at least reduce the All Blacks’ lethal counter attacking. They may look to emulate a South African style game by keeping the ball in tight and playing a conservative kicking game. The bad news is that the All Blacks, led by Beauden Barrett are supremely confident and even conservative, contestable kicks are likely to lead to devastating counterattacks.
In summary a brief game plan for Cheika might be: Get Barrett, slow down game, control possession, stop offloads, accurate kicks and ball and all tackling. Easy eh?
Prediction: All Blacks 36 Australia 13
(Statistics via www.nzherald.co.nz )