Weaker All Blacks bench gives Wallabies a chance in Bledisloe Cup opener
ANALYSIS: Hang tough for the first hour, keep the scores close and wait for the second wind to kick in: if the Wallabies are to beat the All Blacks on Saturday, that is likely to be the formula.
They will be battered in the opening 60 minutes. Forget about the tales of brutal Wallabies training. The All Blacks will be the more hardened team.
Their players went far deeper into Super Rugby and all the hill running in the world is no substitute for the match conditions and hard contact the Kiwis have been through.
But if the All Blacks are not out of sight by 20 minutes to go the Wallabies have hope. It is then the Wallabies' preparation – if it has been genuine and not excessive – may bear fruit.
Even the possibility of the Wallabies getting close will be deemed a fantasy by some. And of course it is in part clutching at straws. But it is also pointing out a truth.
Just quietly, this is not the best All Blacks' bench that has ever been selected.
At the World Cup final in 2015 the replacements were Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams.
The finishers for Bledisloe I are weaker in arguably all but two spots – openside (Ardie Savea) and halfback (TJ Perenara).
Whatever the Wallabies have to contend with on Saturday, they don't have to cope with Barrett or Williams off the bench. The All Blacks' depth here should not frighten the Wallabies.
I like elements of this Wallabies side (although it has to be said that some fill me full of trepidation – where is the kicking game among the back three?).
Sean McMahon and Adam Coleman should offer some physical resistance to Brodie Retallick and Liam Squire when they try and walk all over the Wallabies.
Samu Kerevi can bring some ball carrying clout.
But it is when the game goes deeper – if it is still a contest – that things become interesting.
There is impact from that Wallabies bench in the shape of Lopeti Timani and Tevita Kuridrani and, potentially, just possibly, a hint of an opportunity at set piece.
Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu are decent men to roll on and if a lengthy shift can be coaxed out of Scott Sio the All Blacks do not look so commanding when Owen Franks departs, which could be as early as halftime.
All Blacks bench prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi has already suffered a bad night or two at the hands of Australian scrums. Paddy Ryan and the Waratahs demolished him in Auckland in 2016.
Tu'ungafasi, who can play on both sides of the scrum, played on the tight-head side that night and that's the position he will occupy when he replaces Franks.
It should be said that the All Blacks have put a lot of work into Tu'ungafasi over recent years and rarely pick a bad one. Still, his most solid work at the top level has probably come on the loose-head side, against Ireland last year.
Therein lies one opportunity. It is one that very good sides would relish. The scrum enthusiasts of the north would be rubbing their hands at that All Blacks bench.
Still, to take advantage of it the Wallabies will have to be accurate and disciplined from the outset. I exclude the word "enthusiastic" because that should be a given. If the lethargy from last year's opening Bledisloe is repeated then we will really know that crisis has infected all levels of the game.
No, I do not expect aggression to be an issue, so what we should be looking for is discipline. The last words ringing in the players before they go out is to keep the tackles low and to take a step back when Damian McKenzie comes for the high ball. There are yellows and reds around every corner in the modern game controlled by northern hemisphere refs.
Get all of things right and you never know. Because we "knew" the All Blacks would beat the Lions, didn't we, us experts of the press?
In reality, that series just confirmed the most enduring truth of them all – this is sport and it is unpredictable.
- Sydney Morning Herald