Rieko Ioane is the big All Blacks threat for the Wallabies in Bledisloe test

Rieko Ioane looms as a big problem for the Wallabies.
NIGEL MARPLE/REUTERS

Rieko Ioane looms as a big problem for the Wallabies.

OPINION: There is a lot of noise surrounding the first Bledisloe test in Sydney next Saturday – Sonny Bill Williams' successful appeal against suspension and the ongoing "bug-gate" trial – so it is understandable that the decisions that will actually affect the outcome of the match are in danger of being drowned out.

Still, it is wise not to underestimate how much the All Blacks can change since their previous test, the drawn game against the British and Irish Lions in July. Specifically, their back line from that night will be significantly different against the Wallabies.

I suspect they will make four changes, bringing back Ben Smith (fullback), Ryan Crotty (centre), Sonny Bill Williams (second five-eighth) and Rieko Ioane (left wing).

Rieko Ioane gives the thumbs up after the first test match against the Lions at Eden Park.
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Rieko Ioane gives the thumbs up after the first test match against the Lions at Eden Park.

For all the headlines that Williams attracts, it is that last selection that the Wallabies will have to work hard to shut down, for two reasons.

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First, Ioane has the unhappy knack of producing his best form against Australian opposition, often on Australian soil.

Rieko Ioane, right, and Sonny Bill Williams represent the main backline threats to the Wallabies in the first Bledisloe ...
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Rieko Ioane, right, and Sonny Bill Williams represent the main backline threats to the Wallabies in the first Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney.

He scored against every Australian Super Rugby team bar the Brumbies and terrified the Rebels and Waratahs every time he got the ball in Melbourne and Sydney.

Lest we forget, Ioane started the Lions series as the All Blacks' first-choice No 11 and the dropping of Julian Savea from the All Blacks' Rugby Championship squad has barely caused a ripple of dissent.

Second, if you look at last year's Rugby Championship, it shows that the Wallabies had a particular frailty out wide: All Blacks wings scored an elevated amount of their side's total points against the Wallabies compared to games against Argentina and South Africa.

​Against the Wallabies in 2016, the All Blacks scored 16 tries in three games, and 50 per cent of those were scored by All Blacks wings Savea, Israel Dagg and Waisake Naholo.

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Against the Springboks, the All Blacks scored 15 tries in two games with 27 per cent of those coming from wings.

Against Argentina the difference is even more pronounced. The All Blacks scored 13 tries in two games but only 8 per cent of those tries came from their wings.

The Wallabies – certainly last year at least – represented something of a playground for All Blacks wings and Ioane's success against Australian Super Rugby opposition this year does not suggest that is about to change.

What are the reasons for that?

Continuity of selection among the "back four" players could be one reason. Although Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty were constants in those three tests, there was a bit of chopping and changing in the other positions with Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi and Henry Speight being used.

Second, even though Folau is a brilliant attacking force the decision to play Haylett-Petty on the wing creates challenges for both of them defensively. Haylett-Petty has always looked more comfortable as a fullback and the mid-year switch to the No 14 jersey is not easy – I'm sure the All Blacks are delighted that Dagg, for example, now plays the majority of his football for the Crusaders at No 14, where he has found a home for the All Blacks.

Third, if we take a look at midfield the No 12 jersey was worn by three different players during tests against the All Blacks last year – Matt Giteau, Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge – and we saw some individual errors in this area that led to the All Blacks creating some room for their wings.

That's a snapshot of the Wallabies' challenges and it is absolutely critical that they make good decisions on the outside because that's where the All Blacks are coming for them.

It is no coincidence that the most recent Wallabies victory against the All Blacks, in Sydney in 2015, occurred when Drew Mitchell and Ashley-Cooper were on wings. Both were good readers of the game, and Ashley-Cooper in particular was one of the best defensive decision makers in Australia over the past decade.

Ioane is a threat. He is the fastest in the New Zealand squad and will burn players on the outside given half the chance. The Wallabies must be aggressive and disciplined on defence to shut down that space. 

 

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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