Bledisloe Cup: Five talking points

The Rugby Championship
Matt Lewis Profile
by Matt Lewis

The opening Bledisloe Test is almost here, but what can we expect from the encounter? look at five key talking points ahead of the match. 

Will Fardy’s absence lead to lineout issues?

The biggest shock of the Wallabies team selection was Michael Cheika’s decision to drop Scott Fardy to the bench for Ben McCalman. Fardy was one of the Wallabies' most influential players during their Rugby World Cup campaign but has struggled for form this season, lacking the impact we’ve seen in recent years. Lineout general Rob Simmons and Reds teammate Kane Douglas will reunite for the first time since the World Cup but with Fardy on the bench, the set piece will be a major test. McCalman is six centimetres shorter than Fardy, coming into the Wallabies' already undersized backrow, and while he adds a bit extra from a ball carrying perspective, it could put the lineout under pressure.

Will Fardy's absence hurt the Wallabies lineout? Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wasn't quite buying into the idea that they were giving up a great deal.

“The lineout and scrum are always important. That's the platform you can attack off and they've substituted their height for breakdown tenacity I guess and that's not the first time they've done it," he said.

"It's a trick they've played numerous times now since probably a year ago and it's worked for them. It's the risk and reward, isn’t it. In their minds, they believe the risk is worth the reward that they'll get for it.”

Hansen backs Barrett’s Super Rugby form

It been one of the biggest talking points leading into the opening Bledisloe, but Beauden Barrett edged past Aaron Cruden to have first crack at the All Blacks number 10 jersey on Saturday night. Barrett has been in scintillating form at Super Rugby level, leading the Hurricanes to the franchise’s first title. Barrett’s tactical kicking and speed will be something the Wallabies will need to be wary of and keep his counter attacking under wraps. The All Blacks star has impressed Hansen with his maturity and game management this season. With a Super Rugby championship under his belt now, there Is no question that he is ready to take on the starting responsibility. His selection means the Wallabies will need to be ready from the get go, for the fast-paced attack Barrett is surely going to lead.

Aaron Cruden will start on the bench for the All Blacks. Photo: Getty Images

European Wallabies looking for Bledisloe glory

Michael Cheika has selected 13 players that started in last year’s Rugby World Cup final with only Scott Fardy (benched) and Drew Mitchell (not selected) missing out. Cheika blooded four debutants during the England series but is relying on the experienced overseas-based players in Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Will Genia to win back the Bledisloe. We saw the impact that Giteau had in his return to the international scene last year, and the Wallabies form that saw them lose just two matches in 2015. Having lost their last four matches, the big question is – Can the Wallabies experience lead them to victory?

Will the loss of 800 Test caps hurt the All blacks?

On the other hand, the All Blacks have lost over 800 caps of experience in the last 12 months, but if there’s any team that can continue to perform at the highest level it’s the All Blacks. Dan Carter and Richie McCaw led New Zealand to back-to-back World Cups last year, but Steve Hansen has a host of players waiting for their opportunity. Ardie Savea has taken Super Rugby by storm and will start on the bench to add X-factor, while Barrett’s rise to the top has been magnificent to watch as the 25-year-old stamps his authority on the playmaking role. New Zealand won all three matches against Wales in June and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Wallabies halfback Genia wasn't listening to any 'rebuilding' talk on Thursday,having beaten the All Blacks just twice in his career.

Battle of the coaches

The Bledisloe Cup is an intense week for fans and players alike, but the battle between Michael Cheika and Steve Hansen has added a touch of spice this time around. Both have been swift to try and heap pressure on the other, with Cheika saying that their opponents gave them no chance in the opening Test, an idea Hansen disputed profusely.

Hansen kicked off the barbs on touch down, responding to comments Cheika made about the difficult selection problems he faced in having to choose between Cruden and Barrett at flyhalf and Sam Cane and Ardie Savea at openside.

Cheika and Hansen have added to the Bledisloe build up. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

“It's good of the Australian coach to start picking our team,” Hansen said on Sunday. “I'd say he's got enough problems of his own but we'll pick ours and he can pick his and he'll have a lot to say, no doubt.” Hansen also said following today’s team announcement that the Wallabies were kidding themselves if they weren’t the team under pressure as the look to secure the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002. “Again if you look at what’s happened for them recently, I think they’ve lost their last four games, that’ll create pressure, haven’t won  a Bledisloe for the last 13 years, that’ll create pressure,” he said. Asked about the to and fro, Hansen said he had bigger things to worry about than the Wallabies.