Venue: Optus Stadium, Perth
Date: Sunday, September 5
This is a match that at one point looked like it wouldn’t happen and given the play of Australia in their two Bledisloe Cup defeats at the hands of the All Blacks in the last few weeks the Wallabies might be wishing it never had. The farce that surrounded the All Blacks’ decision to pull out over Covid-19 concerns and the Aussies finding out by text message is behind us all now, but maybe Australia can use that level of disrespect to fuel them into a better display after New Zealand won the Bledisloe for the 19th straight time at Eden Park in the middle of last month.
Australia simply had no answer for the All Blacks as they continued their 35-year wait for a win at Eden Park as New Zealand ran riot to put up their biggest ever points total against the Trans-Tasman neighbours in a 57-22 win. New Zealand ran in eight tries – and could easily have had even more than that – turning a slender-looking 21-15 lead at the break into a rout by the final whistle thanks to clinical finishing and taking maximum advantage of any Australia errors.
It must be frustrating being a Wallabies fan right now. They might not have the star power throughout the team that New Zealand does, but they have players in the likes of Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, and Marika Koroibete that can produce moments – or periods – of magic. What is killing Australia – and maybe this says as much about the cutting edge of the All Blacks as their own failings – is that they show promise between the 22’s and then fall short in key moments where tries are scored or defended.
The massive news is that Samu Kerevi starts at inside center two full years after his Test career looked to have ended with a move to Japan. A relaxation of the Giteau Law – a much-needed relaxation at that – means the tackle-breaking machine will partner Len Ikitau in the middle of the backline as Hunter Paisami has returned home for the birth of his child.
The All Blacks, on the other hand, are looking clinical and full of tries. They survived – and even thrived – in the previous Test when down to 14 men after an Ardie Savea yellow card, understanding how to control the pace of the game and putting in the extra physicality needed when a player short.
The All Blacks welcome back Beauden Barrett to the fly-half jersey in which he won two IRB World Player of the Year awards. Richie Mo’unga has been rested from the squad – Barrett is the only recognized No. 10 – and it will be interesting to see if he can convert the form he showed during his stint in Japan to retake the jumper from Mo’unga permanently instead of the hybrid fullback role he has played for New Zealand in recent times. Brad Weber starts ahead of Aaron smith at No. 9 – Smith, Mo’unga, and Sam Whitelock are all missing from the squad expecting children – with Scotty Barrett replacing Whitelock and partnering Brodie Retallick at lock.
It is impossible to pick against New Zealand to win here but the score they run up and margin of victory will be closer. The weirdness and talk surrounding this match – and its original cancellation – plus Australia being back in Perth will help the Wallabies. If they can clean up some of their mistakes – be it better goal kicking or superior decision making in certain areas of the park – then they should be able to cover the point spread that is set at 17.5 points.