Bledisloe Cup 2016: Rating the Wallabies and All Blacks ahead of Rugby Championship

Ben Smith's class should shine through.
FAIRFAX NZ

Ben Smith's class should shine through.

This is likely to be close, tense, and decided by a few key moments.

The criticism of the Wallabies selecting overseas-based players is puzzling. Each of those involved is Australian, available and clearly a merit-based pick.

Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau in particular are crucial in giving the backline some strong voices. It reflects well on Michael Cheika that they have been keen to return, and the coach's man management skills alone should also help the Wallabies improve markedly from the June series against England.

Kieran Read will lead the All Blacks against the Wallabies for the first time.
PHIL WALTER / GETTY IMAGES

Kieran Read will lead the All Blacks against the Wallabies for the first time.

Here are the key areas as I see them, where the Wallabies might enjoy a slight edge, and where they will have to work hard to negate the All Blacks' advantage.

1. Front row

Scott Sio, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu v Wyatt Crockett, Nathan Harris and Owen Franks

A tight one. Expect Kepu to be much better than in June when he looked half baked, while Moore and Sio have scrummaged superbly all year.

Dane Coles is a major absence for the All Blacks, and injury has also robbed them of Joe Moody, their premier loose-head.

- Advantage Wallabies.

2. Second row:

Kane Douglas and Rob Simmons v Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

Despite Douglas' return, the Wallabies are up against the best second row combination in the world, and don't bring anywhere near the same skills around the park.

The Wallabies' relatively small back row will put pressure on Simmons to nail his lineout calls.

- Advantage All Blacks.

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3. Back row:

Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, David Pocock v Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane and Kieran Read.

So much depends on how Jaco Peyper sees it.

Both teams will try to get away with murder over the ball and if Peyper allows a free for all the Wallabies in particular will benefit.

Hooper's brilliant running has the ability to break the game open but the presence of the excellent Read and his all round game tips the scales towards black.

-  Advantage All Blacks.

4. No.9 and No.10:

Will Genia and Bernard Foley v Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett.

Foley hasn't had much form all season but the extended break will have done him good, and for all Barrett's magic at Super Rugby level this is clearly his biggest challenge yet.

Smith, however, is the world's best.

- Advantage All Blacks.

5. Midfield:

Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani v Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa.

Giteau's legs might not be getting any younger but his return is the single-most important change from the England series.

The Wallabies will use his left boot to get out of trouble and his tenacity on defence is inspirational.

Kuridrani means that for once the Wallabies have the dominant physical presence in midfield, although he will have to stay connected with Ashley-Cooper if the Wallabies use the rush defence. Crotty is solid, but Fekitoa has been out of form.

- Advantage Wallabies.

6. Back three:

Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty and Adam Ashley-Cooper v Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo.

Another toss of the coin but there is such great understanding between Smith and Dagg and the latter's long kicking game can break the hearts of opposition forward packs.

The Wallabies will target Naholo, who is yet to repay the faith showed in him by the selectors, but he is the only true winger on either side.

Advantage All Blacks

7: The bench:

Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Ala'alatoa, Scott Fardy, Dean Mumm, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua and Rob Horne v Codie Taylor, Kane Hames, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden and Julian Savea.

​Either Slipper or uncapped Brumby Ala'alatoa will have to slot in on the tight-head side, which could be problematic, but Fardy will be breathing fire when he comes on.

The All Blacks' lack of midfield cover is a surprise but Squire can really play and the Savea brothers have the potential to cause untold damage.

- Advantage All Blacks

8: Experience:

This is a mature Wallabies side that should not be overawed by the occasion and you just wonder if the All Blacks might begin to miss the authority of Richie McCaw if things get tough.

- Advantage Wallabies

CONCLUSION:

Advantage All Blacks.

They aren't the best side in the world without reason but the gaps between the sides in the areas above aren't so wide that the Wallabies can't upset the odds. Hang on to your hats.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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