Australian rugby fans are still trying to suppress memories of last Saturday night when the All Blacks unleashed an almost historical thumping of the Wallabies in Sydney 42-8.
The stats make for horrible reading for Australians, who tell the story of a New Zealand attack that butchered a Wallaby defence which didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the All Blacks.
A staggering 839 metres run to 307, 22 line breaks to 2, 40 defenders beaten to 13, 28 offloads to 6, and an All Blacks scrum operating at 100% to the Australian’s 71%. The numbers perhaps suggest that the scoreboard was even flattering for the Wallabies performance.
After such an emphatic defeat, it would be expected that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika swung the axe, but injuries have forced his hand more than he would have liked with Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua and Rob Horne all picking up injuries.
As a result, the Wallabies have brought back the enigmatic Quade Cooper to the 10 jersey, with Bernard Foley at 12 and Samu Kerevi starting in the 13. Rob Simmons and Ben McCalman have been cast aside, while Adam Coleman will get his first international star and Scott Fardy returns to the run on side.
The All Blacks picked up a number of injuries last week too, with Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo and Codie Taylor all added to the New Zealand casualty ward. The loss of Crotty is the most significant, and compounded by George Moala sitting in the stands sees the debut of young Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown who will play inside Malakai Fekitoa. Leinert-Brown turned plenty of heads this season, particularly with his strong, dependable defence.
Naholo is replaced by the hulking Julian Savea, on name value no great loss, but on form it is a tough blow. At his best, he’s the number one winger in world rugby and the All Blacks will be hoping last week's hit out where he crossed the line will spark the monster back to life.
Taylor left the field one minute into the previous contest, replaced by Dane Coles who will take back his usual number two jersey this week. They’ve packed plenty of dynamite in the reserves with young guns Damian McKenzie Rieko Ioane coming into the side also, tired legs late in the game could be feasted on by these two.
Beauden Barrett turned his phenomenal Super Rugby form into the first choice All Blacks 10 jersey and didn’t disappoint with a dazzling display of beautiful ball running that we’ve come to expect from the Hurricanes 10.
This week he returns to his home paddock in the black jersey, the windy Wellington playground where he has established his throne. Wellington presents a home ground advantage in more than just comfort and a local crowd, its crazy winds have a significant impact on the game and Barrett has grown to master them. It’s a significant advantage for the All Blacks, one that Cooper and Foley are going to quickly need to learn to adapt to.
After such a comprehensive drubbing last round in Sydney, it’s hard to envision the Wallabies having much more luck here. Talk will come of the All Blacks and complacency, but where in this All Black era as they’ve chewed up and spit out records and championships has complacency been an issue?
They’ll be driven by the fact that they couldn’t put up just a few more points last week, they’ll be driven by the thought of locking up the Bledisloe yet again, and there’s a number of players who are in position wars in that side right now. It was men against boys last week, one week isn’t long enough for these Wallabies to have grown up.