All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett can pile on the pain for the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Aaron Cruden started in the All Blacks’ first two Tests against Wales in June, but a neck injury opened the door for Barrett to step into the No 10 jersey, and he doesn’t look likely to relinquish it in a hurry.
Barrett played a pivotal role as the All Blacks completed their 3-0 series win over Wales with a resounding 46-6 win in the third Test, while he carried that form over into Super Rugby on his return.
The 25-year-old guided the Canes through the playoffs before producing a Man of the Match performance against the Lions in the final, marrying incisive attack with a well-calculated kicking game to perfectly illustrate his all-round strengths.
There’s no doubt Barrett will head into this Saturday’s clash with the Wallabies riding a wave of confidence, and it’s his game management that will be key to the All Blacks’ cause as they look to start their Rugby Championship campaign on a winning note.
Coach Steve Hansen has named a strong, settled pack, and a star-studded backline that includes the dynamic back three of Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo. There is also another opportunity for Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa to prove their worth in the midfield.
An interesting subplot in the lead-up to this clash has been the verbal warfare that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has seemed intent on trying to stir up. In typical fashion, though, Hansen has offered a straight bat in reply, and suggested it’s simply a case of the Aussies looking to create a ‘siege mentality’.
Indeed, there’s little doubt that the Wallabies will be looking for any means to get fired up for this clash after they were humbled 3-0 in their June series against England. It’s the sort of result that will have stung the Aussies, and there is the potential for the All Blacks to bear the brunt of that backlash on Saturday.
It’s for this reason that the Kiwis will be determined to make a strong start and again look to instil a bit of doubt in the potentially fragile Wallabies psyche.
What will aid the Wallabies’ challenge is the fact that they’ve added some 315 Tests of experience for this Bledisloe Cup opener, with Adam Ashley-Coooper, Matt Giteau, Will Genia and Kane Douglas returning to the fold after sitting out the June series.
It’s a considerable boost for the hosts, and the performance of Genia as the halfback general could particularly go a long way in determining the nature of Saturday’s outcome.
With good reason, the All Blacks will come into this clash as favourites, but the Wallabies will have a serious point to prove in what should be an appetising rematch of last year’s World Cup final.
Ultimately, though, if Barrett produces another masterclass at flyhalf, the Wallabies will have very little hope in stopping the free-flowing All Blacks machine.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Australia 48 New Zealand 124
In Sydney: Australia 29 New Zealand 60
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Dane Haylett-Petty, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Scott Fardy, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Rob Horne.
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Julian Savea.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images