By MARC HINTON, RugbyHeaven
Friday, 12 September 2008
By MARC HINTON, RugbyHeaven
Friday, 12 September 2008
I thought Richie McCaw rather summed it up when he spoke of the make-or-break nature of Saturday night's Tri-Nations finale.
The season of both the All Blacks and Wallabies hangs in the balance, just one false move away from failure and possibly one bold one from glory.
"It's one of those games," said McCaw. "When you look back on the season this game will judge how well your season went for both teams."
He's right, too. If the Wallabies get up, and grab that Tri-Nations title, forgotten will be their poor performance in Auckland when they were played off the park by a rampant All Blacks side, and certainly their woeful no-show in Johannesburg where they simply failed to turn up for a match that didn't have a heck of a lot riding on it.
Same goes with the All Blacks. Like the Wallabies they've lost twice already this season and were fairly damn unimpressive through those early rounds when they felt the pinch of losing their inspirational skipper more than most cared to admit.
But now they can complete a fairly dramatic turnaround and you would have to say if they conclude their campaign by knocking off both the Springboks and Wallabies on their home turf, Graham Henry's men will be deserved champions.
So, it's all on the line on Saturday night then. To that end, it's going to be so much about which side handles the occasion better.
I sense the All Blacks have a real advantage here. To me they've seemed to be the more composed side through the week's buildup, their media appearances reflecting a strict focus on what they've got to do, an awareness of the task ahead of them and an innate belief that they have the tools to construct a victory.
Over in Camp Wallaby it's been slightly less fluid.
There's been the disruption caused by having to move Stirling Mortlock in a spot, the whole unease over that Jo'burg fiasco which must weigh on their minds no matter how much it is written off as irrelevant and then a midweek illness to key flanker Rocky Elsom that saw the soon-to-depart big man miss a crucial training session.
There's also been a largely unhealthy focus on McCaw. The Australians have put him on a serious pedestal and seem convinced that all they have to do is take the All Blacks skipper out of the equation to claim victory.
If I was Rodney So'oialo and Jerome Kaino I would be ready to step up with something special. This could be their big chance.
I sense the Wallabies are playing a desperate game of catchup on the All Blacks.
They know they start well behind them on the form front, and are going to have to come up with something out of the bag to prevail.
It's why Robbie Deans, normally the most calculating of coaches, has rolled the dice with his 5-2 forwards-backs split on the bench. Clearly he's aiming to swamp McCaw with a relentless wave of loose forwards coming at him, and he wants fresh legs to sustain that attack.
But Deans has also left himself vulnerable with just two backs reserves. It's a risky move that could net a dramatic result, either way.
The Wallabies are probably going to miss Berrick Barnes more that they'd care to admit. They're a team that like to play the percentages and build pressure through field position. Without Barnes' strong kicking game, they're going to rely heavily on Matt Giteau to pull the right strings in that department.
The All Blacks have also learnt their lessons on that front. They're a much more calculating, disciplined outfit now than the headless chooks who ran around Sydney's ANZ Stadium gifting victory to the delighted Wallabies.
In fact, since then the New Zealanders have knuckled down into what appears to be a bloody good rugby side.
Their set-piece work has been fabulous, their defence tight and disciplined and their attacking game much more calculating. They have finally seemed to have come to grips with the mix of kick-and-chase and tap-and-go required under the hurly-burly of these ELVs.
And in McCaw, Dan Carter, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Mils Muliaina, Andrew Hore, So'oialo and Ma'a Nonu they've got men who have stepped their games up when it's been needed.
It will be a fabulous occasion at Suncorp, too, with the atmosphere really building around Brisbane as the enormity of the occasion kicks in. This, remember, is an area populated with a good many Kiwis, many of whom I'm sure will find their way into the vast stadium to break up those pockets of gold.
The All Blacks will pick up on that. They will see those black-clad fans in the stands, and they'll realise that they have to deliver for them.
It's a pressure Graham Henry's men are used to playing under. They are expected to win every time they run out on to a rugby paddock. Invariably, with the obvious exception of the World Cups, they deliver.
The Wallabies, on the other hand, do not have such expectation weighing them down on a weekly basis. Clearly they're in rebuilding mode under their new Kiwi coach and as much of a fillip victory would be, honourable defeat would not present anything too destabilising.
Rome wasn't built in a day, in other words.
Hasn't it also been good to see the personality politics of the two coaches largely left out of the buildup hype this week.
The Dingo Deans v Ted Henry story has had more than its fair share of coverage during this campaign. I like the fact that for this, the decisive match, the concentration has been on the players. It is them, after all, who have to deliver out there on Saturday night.
MAIN MEN: The forcus has been on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw this week rather than coach Graham Henry and that sums up the fact that the defining Tri-Nations test against the Wallabies comes down to the players rather than the well documented rivalry between the coaches.