OPINION: On a bitterly cold Christchurch night in June, squat Irish loose-head prop Cian Healy pushed, the vaunted right side of the All Blacks' scrum wobbled and eyebrows in two hemispheres were raised. In the tight exchanges, Richie McCaw repeatedly carried the ball into a green wall of angry men, all elbows and wild glares, and he kept spilling it.
In the week leading into that game, the script - a document that sport regularly discredits - had declared Ireland were destined for a sizeable loss. It was motivational fuel for the visitors and should be for the Wallabies. If they are prepared mentally - and they will be - tomorrow night will be significantly more interesting than supposed.
The talk out of New Zealand this week has been of an imposing victory and the Wallabies' multiple weaknesses. It has not come from the All Blacks, and their coaching group must worry about the impact of this flattery. It is a challenge to manufacture that hard edge when you are sitting on top of the world and everyone is declaring that your soles are exquisite.
Will other things have to go the Wallabies' way? Of course. This is a wonderful All Blacks team. They destroyed a deflated Ireland 60-0 the week after Christchurch. They are the best team in the world today and they will be on Sunday, regardless of the result. And there are two main areas where the Wallabies will have to improve exponentially from their own clashes in the June series.
Five years after the humiliation of Marseille, it is an embarrassment for Australian rugby to still be talking about the scrum, but it is inescapable when you digest the following statistic. Of all scrums in the Wales series, 34 per cent of them ended in a Wallabies infringement, either a free kick or a penalty. If that is repeated, the All Blacks will bury them. Benn Robinson, inferior to other props around the park, has not played a bigger game for years.
Second, New Zealand recovered 27.8 per cent of their restarts/22-metre drop-outs against Ireland, compared with none for Australia against Wales. These ruckingoodstats.com numbers do not tell the entire story - Adam Ashley-Cooper's excellent work in the third Test against Wales a contributing factor to the knock-ons by the Welsh catchers - but the imbalance remains. And yet it is a matter of simple training-ground repetition.
But there are Wallabies' strengths to play to if these two pieces of the jigsaw are clicked into place.
Kurtley Beale, under the radar all week, resumes in the No.15 jersey to tussle with Israel Dagg for the crown of world's best, after missing the World Cup semi-final. Dave Dennis is a better option at blindside than the version of Rocky Elsom fielded that day. Scott Higginbotham has form and a scrum-base understanding with Will Genia. Nathan Sharpe, unluckily omitted in the 20-6 loss, is the shrewdest lineout operator in Australia and will contest the lineout money ball to Kieran Read when the New Zealanders try to set up the Luke Romano crash ball in midfield.
And all of them will have the security of a five-eighth who plays sympathetically to his forward pack, pushing the ball to the corners with his kicking game. Quade Cooper's supporters will correctly argue the Wallabies have sacrificed some flair with Berrick Barnes. They have also avoided some instability. This is Test rugby. Morne Steyn has a better winning percentage against the All Blacks - and from more games - than the Reds' five-eighth.
There are also some flashes of exposed heel flesh in the All Blacks.
Genia's favourite and most accurate kick - towards, or over, the opposition left winger - is well suited to test the weakest part of Hosea Gear's game. Jerome Kaino is no longer present to lean his shoulders into Wallabies tacklers, or haul back Digby Ioane on his way to the try line. Aaron Smith, a Bledisloe rookie, was hustled out of his game in Super Rugby by the intrusive breakdown work of the Chiefs and Crusaders.
Also, hot blood runs through the All Blacks midfield. Sonny Bill Williams still hasn't shaken the habit of dropping the shoulder into the ball carrier - he did it again in the Super Rugby final, against Pat Lambie. His partner, Ma'a Nonu, has matured but does not have the circumspection of a Conrad Smith. Prematch comments have focused on how he will devour his opposite, Rob Horne, but they slightly miss the point. The Wallabies will send several runners into his channel and force him to make sound defensive decisions.
For days, questions have been asked of the Wallabies. They are about to submit some of their own.