Rugby Championship: All Blacks and Wallabies keen to bring their ‘A’ game

Both teams said after the Sydney match the draw felt like defeat, which All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said had only been exacerbated when they reviewed the game on Monday.

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw left, and Kurtley Beale of Australia will be leading the charge again for their respective sides today. Rob Griffith / AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

aUCKLAND // New Zealand’s rugby team, in their public utterances at least, have come across this week like a bear with a raging hunger only a feast of Wallaby can cure.

The All Blacks drew 12-12 with Australia last weekend in their Rugby Championship opener in Sydney, bringing an end to a 17-match winning streak.

The post-mortem was unforgiving with labels like “poor”, “inadequate” and “lacking execution” attached to their performance.

Coach Steve Hansen has pitched in as well, telling the All Blacks he expects an improvement of “10 to 12 notches” in the return clash at Eden Park on Saturday.

Both teams said after the Sydney match the draw felt like defeat, which All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said had only been exacerbated when they reviewed the game on Monday.

“It felt like a loss, and when you review the game on Monday it certainly was a similar sort of situation,” he said.

“That put the guys on the front of their seats. There is a bit of an edge there, but that’s only words so far and it’s about putting it into action tomorrow.”

New Zealand’s rugby-mad public also expects, if not demands, a backlash today to act as a kind of ritual cleansing so their equilibrium can return to balance.

The Australia coach Ewen McKenzie appears unconcerned that the Wallabies might have “poked a bear with a stick” last ­Saturday.

“We don’t think about that,” he said yesterday. We think about our potential as a football team so we’re trying to realise that. They’ll judge their own performance. We put them under pressure but we made mistakes too so it’s not about poking a bear with a stick.

“It’s a competitive game and we want them to bring their ‘A’ game, because we will bring ours, and that’s what it’s all about.”

McKenzie was part of the 1991 World Cup-winning Wallabies, who were built less than two years out from the tournament by coach Bob Dwyer, who injected youth into the side and changed their game plan.

The former tighthead prop took a similar approach last year when he got the job and has shaken up the team and playing style, while also attempting to shore up the scrum.

On last week’s evidence, the gap between the All Blacks and Wallabies has diminished in the past 12 months.

The Wallabies entered last week’s game at the Olympic Stadium on a seven-match winning streak of their own and some pundits see today’s match as an indicator of which side is trending upwards towards next year’s World Cup.

An Australian victory today would undermine some of the mythology around the current All Blacks and their “fortress” Eden Park.

The All Blacks have not lost a match at the ground since 1994 – a run of 32 successive victories – while the Wallabies have not won there since 1986.

The All Blacks are also unbeaten in New Zealand since 2009 and have won 29 of their 32 matches – two of which have been draws with the Wallabies – since the 2011 World Cup. McKenzie has not been dwelling too much on history in the build-up, understandably when the weight of it suggests an All Blacks win.

“In the end it is going to get sorted out on the football field, players against players. We need to get the basics right. Rugby is not that complicated,” he said.


Argentina have come close to beating South Africa, not least in the Rugby Championship two years ago, but have fallen short in all 18 attempts.

But the Pumas are confident they have the team to do it after a narrow 13-6 loss to the Springboks in Pretoria last weekend, and will try again in Salta tonight.

South Africa have refused to go under to Argentina even when, as visitors facing the might of the Pumas pack and the roar of their intimidating support, a defeat looked inevitable.

The Springboks go into their first match in Salta, in the north-western corner of Argentina, with the incentive of staying top of the Championship standings after holders New Zealand drew with Australia in the Sydney opener.

Looking to improve aspects of their game, notably in the set pieces where they were often outsmarted by Argentina, coach Heyneke Meyer has brought back flanker Juan Smith from a Test absence of nearly four years.

“Our line-outs are an important attacking platform and we need to improve this week – I’m sure Juan will add another dimension,” Meyer said after naming his team in the capital on Wednesday.

Meyer made three changes, all in the pack, which stand in contrast to the two changes made in the backs by Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade, who has included Juan Martin Hernandez after he missed last week with a muscle problem. “This is a clear indication of the worries we gave them in winning the ball,” Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade said.

Argentina should have broken their Springboks duck when they were held 16-16 in Mendoza in their maiden championship season in 2012 and went close last year when they lost 22-17 at the same venue.

“Obviously the result is always important, but as long as we take steps forward, that’s also a good result,” Hourcade said in Salta. “My heart always tells me we have what it takes to make a breakthrough. Today it would be a breakthrough. The idea is to be their equals in the future.”

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE