Rusty Wallabies should wake up All Blacks

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 13:05 07/06/2012

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OPINION: Scotland's shock win over the Wallabies will have set off alarm bells in the All Blacks camp.

And well it might. Season-openers haven't always been easy for the All Blacks down the years.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen will be demanding his players are awake to the dangers presented at Eden Park on Saturday night, even by Ireland whom the All Blacks have never lost to.

That record only places more pressure on the All Blacks, especially in a scenario where they start a new year with a new coaching team light on international experience.

Hansen isn't immune to seeing the All Blacks botch a start to their campaign. In 2009 the All Blacks tripped up to France in Dunedin, went on to drop three test to the Springboks and bookended their year with a loss to the British Barbarians at Twickenham.

John Mitchell's 2003 side lost their season-opener to England in Wellington, a result visiting coach Sir Clive Woodward said was the springboard to their World Cup success later that season.

Laurie Mains twice suffered the embarrassment of first-up losses - a 28-14 shocker to the World XV in Christchurch in 1992 to start his time in charge of the All Blacks. Two years later his New Zealand team were humbled 22-8 by France in Christchurch and a week later again got tipped over at Eden Park to record a series loss at home.

It's not all bad. Since the World Cup era of international rugby started the All Blacks have won 21 of their 25 season-openers for a winning percentage of 84 which sits just above the winning rate of the professional era.

But a closer inspection brings a bit of perspective. The All Blacks have made a habit of playing "warm-up tests" against island neighbours in recent times. Throwing in a few more against "easy beats" since 1987 like Canada, Italy and Argentina certainly helped that percentage.

But against Home Unions and France, the All Blacks have dropped four of their 14 season-openers in the same period.

The Irish have been regular visitors here in recent times, being the season appetisers in 2006, 2008 and 2011. They pushed the All Blacks hard in the first-up tests of the '06 and '08 visits.

A betting man will have his money on the All Blacks this weekend. It is, after all, the world champions hosting the third-best Six Nations side at their Auckland fortress.

A mathematician might suggest something different, that the 107-year streak against Ireland has to end some time and that the 18-year winning stretch at Eden Park is also an accident waiting to happen.

Some football facts add weight to the theories of the numbers men.

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Apart from the raw look to the All Blacks coaching setup there is also a new feel to the squad that lifted the Webb Ellis Cup. They've hardly had time to get out of their Super Rugby gear in a newly structured season that gives the All Blacks bosses little time with their charges in the buildup to Saturday.

In contrast the Irish come with a  squad built around Heineken Cup finalists Leinster and Ulster that has been together on and off for virtually an entire year.

Few would have given the struggling Scots any chance of beating the Wallabies though a few Samoans might have had a dabble with the bookies after their men upset Australia in last year's season-opener against Robbie Deans' Australians.

Hansen is on a bit of a hiding to nothing with his opening assignment given the lofty status of his team and their record against the Irish.

He needs to win and he needs to win well. But the big man also needs to tread carefully over the next couple of days because there's a banana skin in his path.

ALL BLACKS SEASON OPENERS

2011: v Fiji 60-14

2010: v Ireland 66-28

2009: v France 22-7*

2008: v Ireland 21-11

2007: v France 42-11

2006: v Ireland 34-23

2005: v Fiji 91-0

2004: v England 36-3

2003: v England 13-15*

2002: v Italy 64-10

2001: v Samoa 50-6

2000: v Tonga 102-0

1999: v Samoa 71-13

1998: v England 64-22

1997: v Fiji 71-5

1996: v Samoa 51-10

1995: v Canada 73-7

1994: v France 8-22*

1993: v Lions 20-18

1992: v World XV 14-28*

1991: v Argentina 28-14

1990: v Scotland 31-16

1989: v France 25-17

1988: v Wales 52-3

1987: v Italy 70-6

* Losses

Played 25, won, 21, lost 4

- Stuff

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