All Blacks relaxed, wary of a Sydney ambush

Last updated 05:00 18/08/2012
SBW and Nonu
BIG PAIR: All Blacks' midfield combination Ma'a Nonu (left) and Sonny Bill Williams.

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Anyone other than Australia, anywhere other than Sydney, and this test would be a gimme for an All Blacks side still feeding off the carefree release of their Rugby World Cup success.

The world champions will go into tonight's Bledisloe Cup clash at ANZ Stadium as deserved favourites, a side determined to wear their mantle with style.

Outwardly the All Blacks are relaxed, seemingly more so in the early stages of Steve Hansen's reign as head coach than when the earnest figures of Graham Henry and Wayne Smith held sway.

Jokes have pervaded their press conferences and laughs rang out at ANZ Stadium during yesterday's captain's run.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was quick to dismiss complacency, saying their 20-6 World Cup semifinal drubbing of the Wallabies was irrelevant.

“What's happened before means nothing. Teams change and one week can be a long time in sport,” he said. “Looking at their personnel they have there at the moment they are quality individuals and we're in for a big challenge.

“I think there is an intense rivalry between Australia and New Zealand. You can't get carried away with individual battles. It's Wallabies versus the All Blacks and that carries enough weight on its own.”

That said, the All Blacks have arrived late in the week with the swagger of champions and it's difficult to argue the toss.

The side is swelling with talent, able to bench form-horse Aaron Cruden and boasting a super-sized backline.

Senior players seem remarkably calm and Ma'a Nonu looks refreshed and ready for a big return after missing the June series.

If this side plays without fear it will be a dangerous beast indeed, particularly when Israel Dagg, Hosea Gear and Cory Jane are lurking outside Sonny Bill Williams and Nonu.

The Wallabies are desperate to win back the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2003, but the stars are not aligning.

Coach Robbie Deans is without captain James Horwill in the second row and the finesse of an unwanted Quade Cooper and the injured pair of James O'Connor and Pat McCabe in the backs.

There is conservatism to the backs and notably there has been a miserly five tries from four tests this year, three during one test against Wales.

So why that nagging doubt?

As you drive into Olympic Park you are met by giant images of young Australians competing in a variety of sports.

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Beyond the placards is the massive hulk that is ANZ Stadium, a place that will swell to near capacity tonight, 72,000 of the 80,000 tickets had sold yesterday morning.

It is a place that has inspired the Wallabies before and they hold sway over the All Blacks with six wins from 11 tests at the venue and twice lost by a single point. Australia's famous wins include the 2003 Rugby World Cup semifinal and a 34-19 rout in 2008.

The All Blacks will likely target two areas, the set piece and first five-eighth Berrick Barnes who can bend under physical pressure.

Barnes can expect his opposite Dan Carter to steer the thighs and fends of men like second five-eighth Sonny Bill Williams, No 8 Kieran Read and Gear down his channel.

If there is hope for the home side it must come from inspirational captain and openside David Pocock, halfback Will Genia and fullback Kurtley Beale.

Beale is expected to come into first receiver, but how much ball he'll get is debatable.

The Wallaby lineout was shaky against Wales and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau can be prone to off days with his throwing.

And up front they will need something special with the All Blacks keen to destabilise the scrum from which Genia can turn a game against any side in the world.

With an even share of ball the All Blacks should get their Rugby Championship campaign off to a winning start, but history suggests anything's possible in Sydney.

ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.

WALLABIES: Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Anthony Fainga'a, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock (c), Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Sitaleki Timani,  Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Drew Mitchell.

- Fairfax Media

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