19 Aug 2017

Bledisloe Cup: Wallabies have more problems than the All Blacks

5:34 am on 19 August 2017

The All Blacks won't be giving sideline scandals a second thought in this week's game against the Wallabies - they'll be focusing on getting their season back on track after failing to win their last two tests, Jamie Wall writes.

How much freedom to run will Beauden Barrett have against the Wallabies?

How much freedom to run will Beauden Barrett have against the Wallabies? Photo: Photosport

Let's just forget about Aaron Smith and his comically inept attempts to cover up his lewd actions of a year ago, let alone his comically inept attempts at the English language.

Let's forget the court case involving a security guard allegedly bugging the All Blacks' hotel room last year.

Because it's highly likely the All Blacks aren't giving these a second thought. What matters this weekend is the rare situation of an All Black side having failed to win their two last tests, and having to essentially get their season back on track after a shock drawn series with the British & Irish Lions.

It's that Lions series that the Wallabies can draw some inspiration from. After coming back to win the second test - albeit with a little help from Sonny Bill Williams' indiscipline - they managed to withstand a first half onslaught from the All Blacks in the third and deciding test. They battled to an honourable, if a little controversial, draw at Eden Park - getting as close as anyone had to beating the All Blacks there since 1994.

So what do the Wallabies need to do?

Besides the obvious immediate sledging of Smith (if he actually gets to play), a rush defence needs to be put in place early and often to try and nullify Beauden Barrett.

The All Blacks were shown to be far too reliant on the Hurricanes first-five in the second test especially, and banging him up a bit could mean a few uncharacteristic mistakes in the backline.

It's unlikely that Barrett's sometimes wayward goalkicking will play a part in the result, given that Damian McKenzie has been brought into the side. The Chiefs fullback will have to contend with a barrage of high balls from both Will Genia and Bernard Foley, and if the Wallabies are smart, they'll be running Israel Folau straight at him to leap up and over to claim those kicks.

So it's tempting to think the Wallabies will run a conservative game plan against the All Blacks, even though looking back at the few losses the World Champions have conceded, that has no basis in prior results. The Lions' 24 points to beat the All Blacks was admittedly the lowest winning total since 2011, however they did still have to outscore them by two tries to none.

Meanwhile, the All Blacks simply have to get back to their bullying best. They've signified that intent with the promotion of Highlanders loose forward Liam Squire to the starting line-up, at the expense of veteran Jerome Kaino. This is arguably a much bigger talking point than McKenzie's start at fullback, given that Ben Smith will still be floating around on the wing to help him out under the aforementioned bombs.

Kaino's place in the pecking order has seriously slipped given that Squire has spent most of the season watching from the sidelines with injury, and is a clear sign that coach Steve Hansen is thinking about future-proofing the blindside flanker spot.

Sonny Bill Williams gets a chance to bury the demons of his shoulder-charge induced stint on the sideline, courtesy of some very liberal interpretations of what constitutes a proper game of rugby. His four-match suspension is now up, so expect a big performance from him on a ground where he has won two NRL premierships.

A year-old sex scandal and confusing court case won't be enough to derail the All Blacks' preparation for this test. Especially considering that when you contrast them to Australian rugby having to ditch one of their Super Rugby teams, the Wallabies losing to Scotland this year and the very existence of the code being under threat in the country - all makes Aaron Smith making an ill-advised trip to the loo seem a bit miniscule in comparison, doesn't it?

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