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After their first Super Rugby title ever, the Waratahs’ victory has caused many pundits to rethink the way we approach this year’s Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup tests. But let’s be honest: Super Rugby title or not, the All Blacks are still very much the team to beat.
If anything, the Crusaders’ recent Super Rugby heartbreak has just given the All Blacks (who are made up of eight Crusaders) extra motivation to head over the ditch and really take it to those Wallabies.
The Waratahs will form the backbone of the Wallabies, and I’m not sure they can improve a lot either environment-wise or playing-wise. Whereas I think the opposite applies for the All Blacks.
Any confidence the Wallabies take out of this result will be false confidence. It’s a massive step up to test rugby, and though the Waratahs will still be buzzing, in the back of their minds they’ll know they’re facing a massive challenge.
Nothing’s changed on the back of one Super Rugby game. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure the Wallabies will certainly provide a stern challenge for the men in black, but let’s just remember who these Wallabies still have to come up against.
Get past the Read, McCaw and Carter factor if you can. The Wallabies will still be having nightmares about the last time they faced up against Jerome Kaino in that World Cup semifinal. The way he simply manhandled Digby Ioane as he headed towards the try-line. The influence of Brodie Retallick in the second row, arguably the best lock in world rugby at the moment. And what about that midfield? Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith (should he be fit) with Malakai Fekitoa coming off the bench – good luck getting through that.
There’s a lot to this All Black side that perhaps the Wallabies haven’t prepared for. The arrogance of Ewen McKenzie against the composure and astuteness of Steve Hansen – McKenzie is certainly yet to prove himself against the All Blacks.
Sure, the Wallabies have some firepower – the name Israel Folau comes to mind here – but they lack the mental fortitude to get themselves up for such a clash against the ABs. I’m fully prepared to be proved wrong here, but I have a feeling the All Blacks will come in guns blazing for this one, and really take it to the Aussies on their home turf. Should be an absolute cracker, nonetheless.
My pick: All Blacks 32–18 Wallabies
Top 5 Players to Look Out For in the Rugby Championship
Kurtley Beale (Australia): This somewhat bad boy of Australian rugby has made his presence felt in Super Rugby, and will certainly be looking to continue that form for the Wallabies. He can be a game-changer when he wants to be, and whether he’s at first five or second five, he’ll be a handful for opposition teams.
Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa): The highly influential hooker will be the key to the South African scrum. If he can get the upper hand over his opponents, then he’ll go a long way to providing the ultimate platform the Boks’ backs to run off. Best to keep this big lard contained at all times.
Kieran Read (New Zealand): No words really needed for the IRB Player of the Year. This man lives to tear opposition sides apart, and his running game will be massive for the All Blacks. Read’s ability to put his outsides in acres of space has given opposition sides nightmares – expect this to continue in 2014.
Jerome Kaino (New Zealand): Again, not too many words needed. Kaino has quickly found the form he left New Zealand in after the World Cup. He’s been huge for the All Blacks so far, and his threatening presence at the breakdown and work rate on defence will again be a massive determining factor in the All Blacks’ performances this year.
Israel Folau (Australia): Do not let this man run. Pretty simple instructions really, but instructions that are much easier said than done. He tends to look to go through opposition midfields, so expect Nonu and Smith to have their hands full. If Folau is given room to run, then he can put sides on the back foot immediately. So stop him. Please.