Finegan: Can the Wallabies take their opportunity?

The Rugby Championship
by Owen Finegan

One of the most important adages of sport is taking an opportunity when it presents itself.

The 2016 Bledisloe Cup will be a challenge equivalent to Everest for Australia. Game One in Sydney followed by two Tests in New Zealand, a potential Eden Park decider the ultimate summit.

The Wallabies, whitewashed by England in June, are looking down the barrel of a fifth straight loss and have gone for experience with 13 of the 15 starting players from their World Cup final loss in their Bledisloe XV.

Douglas is back for his first Test since 2015. Photo: Getty Images

On the flipside, New Zealand is looking for a 12th straight win, a streak that goes back to this corresponding fixture last year.

The All Blacks team is remarkably different to the one that won the Rugby World Cup final, with only seven of their starting XV running on in minute one.

The All Blacks have wonderful replacements for Dan Carter and Richie McCaw in Beauden Barrett and Sam Cane but Carter and McCaw have been the rudder for recent All Black sides and most rugby fans around the world would have those two players in their all-time World XV.

The All Blacks have lost 800 caps of experience. Photo: Getty Images

The disappointing results for Australian teams this year’s Super Rugby have allowed the Wallabies an unprecedentedly long preparation and the time to refine their patterns and areas of their game exposed during the English series.

Will Genia, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper will all be steadying influences on a team that struggled for composure in June.

Matt Toomua’s ball playing skills had a major impact on the Wallabies’ attacking game in the third Test against England and Giteau’s influence has been missed.

The Wallabies inside centre would likely not be back were it not for a deeply unsatisfying World Cup final outing, in which he lasted just 25 minutes before coming off concussed.

As the Wallabies welcome back their veterans in the backline, the All Blacks will be led by a relative newcomer in the starting side, in Beauden Barrett.

Barrett has been one of the in-form Super Rugby players this year. Photo: Getty Images

Flyhalf Beauden Barrett is joined by a new centre combination of Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa with the other All Black mainstays Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith plying their trade overseas and injuries to George Moala and Sonny Bill Williams making them unavailable.

There is a window of opportunity for the Wallabies but whether they are good enough to take it remains to be seen.

Wallabies by 5

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