This weekend effectively sees the grand final of the 2007 tri-nations, with the Wallabies taking on the All Blacks in Auckland. The twists and turns of this year’s competition means the default supposition of only a month ago – that the ABs should stroll this one – is no longer a foregone conclusion. So what can we expect on Saturday?
I see two scenarios.
Scenario 1 – ‘Doomsday’
The Wallabies haven’t won at Eden park since 1978, and Saturday doesn’t buck the trend. The Australians yield yet another horrific start to a test, however, this time there’s no turnaround. The All Black scrum finally exerts its superiority and the Wallabies simply can’t get their hands on the ball. McCaw reigns supreme at the breakdown, milking penalties and turnover ball in dangerous positions.
With the pristine ball delivered by the forwards, the AB backline starts to click, to devastating effect, and put away all of the tries they’ve spilled earlier this season. McCallister shows his ability to beat a man at will and Carter’s kicking radar is back on line. On the back foot from the start, the Aussie backs, with the inexperienced Ashley-Cooper at 15, simply hoof the ball aimlessly down field. This just serves to make things worse by giving the All Blacks all the counter-attacking opportunities they could want. The scoreline is a 30 point hiding.
The All Black wobbles are expunged and the Wallaby progress this far is destroyed. It gives me cold sweats writing this, as I can just see it in my minds eye (and I haven’t even thrown in an injury to Larkham, Giteau or Mortlock).
Scenario 2 – ‘The Alamo’
The Wallabies show that the grit and self-belief demonstrated this season is no flash in the pan. There’s the trademark slow start, but it lasts only a few minutes this time and they are still within 6 points after 30 minutes. The forwards successfully attack the AB line-outs and in the scrum can hold on long-enough to clear quick ball. They show why defensively they are the misers of world rugby and repel all the ABs have to throw at them in this period. Still unable to find their rhythm, the AB back-line again splutters and Carter’s form hasn’t returned.
Ten minutes before half-time and the Wallabies find their rhythm, holding the ball for extended periods and driving into Kiwi territory. AB penalties start to leak again, there are plenty of warnings, but no cards. Mortlock wobbles a few over and the scores at the break are about all square.
The AB’s come out firing in the second half and get a try up on the Wallabies through sheer power. However, the Wallabies once again close ranks; Smith, Elsom and then Hoiles from the bench haranging and competing like madmen in the loose. Larkham shows a flash of genius to ignite the Aussie backline and score’s back about even.
Again the tide has turned and, while doing anything he could to stop the advancing Wallabies, McCaw infringes once too often and is off (the controversy)! The All Blacks are a man down and rudderless. The Wallabies get home by less than 5 points. I daren’t speculate on the ramifications.
Obviously there are in between versions of these 2 scenarios and it’s statistically more likely that one of them will occur. Given the points differential between Doomsday and The Alamo, the balance weighs significantly in favour of the home side. But for me, well I’m going to dare to dream. What about you?
All Blacks: Mils Muliaina, Doug Howlett, Isaia Toeava, Luke McAlister, Joe Rokocoko, Daniel Carter, Byron Kelleher, Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerry Collins, Chris Jack, Keith Robinson, Carl Hayman, Anton Oliver, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Neemia Tialata, Reuben Thorne, Chris Masoe, Brendon Leonard, Aaron Mauger, Nick Evans.
Wallabies: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Stirling Mortlock (captain), Matt Giteau, Mark Gerrard, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, David Lyons, George Smith, Rocky Elsom, Dan Vickerman, Nathan Sharpe, Guy Shepherdson, Stephen Moore, Matt Dunning. Reserves: Adam Freier, Al Baxter, Hugh McMeniman, Stephen Hoiles, Phil Waugh, Scott Staniforth, Chris Latham.