Preview: June internationals

Thu 21 Jun 2012
Preview: June internationals

ALL BLACKS v IRELAND
When: Saturday June 23, 7.35pm
Where: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Head-to-Head: Played 26, All Blacks 25, Ireland 0, Drawn 1
In Hamilton: Played 1, All Blacks 1, Ireland 0
Last match: June 16, 2012: All Blacks beat Ireland 22-19 at AMI Stadium, Christchurch

WE WERE well off the mark in our test preview last week.

There seemed to be a general feeling that the All Blacks would get better and the Irish had little more to give after the one-sided first test in Auckland.

Maybe now we New Zealand scribes will treat this Irish team with a touch more respect after they came within a few minutes of a massive upset against the world champions. The Irish pack, in particular, gave its All Blacks opposites some serious curry in both the set-pieces and the collision areas.

One can use all the excuses you like – the cold weather was a leveller, Kieran Read’s injury hindered momentum, the Israel Dagg sinbinning was harsh –but the reality is the All Blacks were off their game, their hands were poor and they did not meet the Irish physicality consistently enough.

They were lucky in the end that they were able to force field position and for Dan Carter to pop over a dropped goal – just his fifth in tests – to avoid the first draw between these sides since 1973.

Lessons for the All Blacks are many and varied, so one would expect the forwards, in particular, will get a working-over in contact this week, while the backs will need more high ball work. Julian Savea was exposed here in Christchurch, and only now is the absence of the safer Cory Jane and Richard Kahui being truly felt.

Coach Steve Hansen knows what needs to happen.

“I think we’ll learn a lot out of the test match as a team, particularly in how we prepare, even though we may well have thought we had prepared really well. I don’t think we were [prepared], in reflection, because you just don’t give away stupid penalties like we did if you’re in the right zone.

“Under the conditions, we may have been a bit naïve at times and tried to play too much rugby in our own half, but the All Blacks are often guilty of doing that and that’s because we play rugby. Our great strength is the 15 people on the park. It’s just a little bit of fine-tuning and understanding how to use the conditions to support the team we’ve got.”

There didn’t seem to be a lot of paying credit to the Irish, as they were frankly unlucky. One could almost forgive the All Blacks for looking internally at what went wrong, but they will surely privately acknowledge that the likes of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Jamie Heaslip are quality forwards.

Sadly for the tourists, Heaslip has a fractured finger which will rule him out of the test, while second five Gordon D’Arcy has returned home with a calf strain.

Ulster’s Paddy Wallace has joined the squad as cover. His last outing for Ireland was against Russia in Rotorua during Rugby World Cup.

The All Blacks have issues of their own, at loose forward, for one, where Read took another head knock and has been ruled out for the third test.

Sam Cane, who was impressive in his 40 minute debut, starting, and joined Liam Messam in the loose forward trio on his home ground. Ali Williams is out for eight weeks with a knee injury, but his All Blacks days look numbered as he has failed to impress.

This will be the second All Blacks-Ireland test in Hamilton, after the 2006 match which saw the All Blacks edge a 34-23 win. It was only late through a Troy Flavell try that the home side pulled clear and repelled a strong Irish challenge.

Only three of the All Blacks who appeared that day six years ago are still in the squad, and skipper Richie McCaw is the only one to have played in this series.

Five Irishmen remain, but that includes D’Arcy, who has been invalided out of the tour.

We are loathe to make any predictions about this test, except that the All Blacks should improve. But there is no reason the Irish cannot go out with a bang before they take a well-earned rest after a year of training.

– Campbell Burnes

WALLABIES v WALES
When: Saturday June 23, 3.00 pm (5.00pm NZT)
Where: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 34, Wallabies 23, Wales 10, Drawn 1
In Sydney: Played 5, Wallabies 4, Wales 1
Last match: June 16, 2012: Wallabies beat Wales 25-23 at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne

BOTH TEAMS will be motivated by different things as test match rugby returns to the old Sydney Football Stadium for the first time in 14 years this Saturday afternoon.

The Wallabies will be eying a clean sweep against Wales; the Six Nations champions will be hoping to end their time Down Under on a positive note by posting their first win on Australian soil in 43 years.

Wales were just 20 seconds away from doing that last weekend in the second test in Melbourne, before Wallabies replacement Mike Harris slotted a last-gasp penalty after the fulltime hooter had sounded to alter the final scoreline.

It was an improved performance from Wales. After being guilty of starting slowly in the first test, Wales galloped out of the gate at a brisk pace. Moreover, its defence proved impenetrable, with the Wallabies being outscored two tries to one. It had the Wallabies under the knuckle.

Ultimately, though, the tourists were left to rue some poor discipline in the final two minutes. Replacement hooker Richard Hibbard sinned twice when there was no need to and that allowed the Wallabies to collect the field position which enabled Harris to win the game for the hosts.

There were other reasons why the test went against them.

Wales’ lineout work was shoddy. Hooker Matthew Rees missed his targets four times in the first half when the side was in prime attacking zones. No doubt he and his jumpers have made sure they are singing off the same hymn sheet to avoid any future malfunctions this weekend.

The men in red also did not get power players like George North and Alex Cuthbert involved in the game enough. Too often they were spectators in the match.

They suffered in the possession and territory stakes, with the Wallabies enjoying 64 percent and 66 percent respectively in both. Wales must keep hold of the ball if it seriously wants to record its first win in Australia since 1969. Kicking away the nut will only play into Australia’s hands.

As for the Wallabies, they were not perfect. The side took its foot off Wales’ throat after leading at halftime and blew a number of attacking chances in the second half which almost proved costly. A more ruthless streak needs to be displayed when it has teams leaning heavily on the ropes.

But they showed enough composure and an ability to play right up until the final second of the game to suggest they are learning how to close out the tight matches – something they have struggled to do consistently in recent years.

New dad Berrick Barnes, who scored 17 points, was an inspirational figure for the Wallabies after making it back to Melbourne just a few hours before kick-off. The five-eighth dashed home to Sydney late on Friday to be at the birth of his first child.

Coach Robbie Deans has only made two changes to his side, welcoming back from injury Kurtley Beale. Beale’s inclusion at fullback has seen Adam Ashley-Cooper replace Cooper Vuna on the right wing.

The other change sees Sitaleki Timani come in for Rob Simmons in the second row. Surprisingly, though, Harris has not been included in the match-day squad, despite his Etihad Stadium heroics.

Deans says that although the series is effectively over, he is expecting a fired up Wales side, especially as it still has something to play for.

“Both games in the series to date have been very close, there’s no reason to suggest that Saturday afternoon will be any different,” he says.

“While they can no longer win the series, they can still achieve something only one other Welsh team has ever achieved by winning in Australia. And they have that opportunity in front of them with no real downside – nothing to fear, so to speak, as the series is beyond them.

“If anything, they will be even more dangerous because the circumstance will unshackle them.”

It will be interesting to see how closely the breakdown is monitored by referee Craig Joubert. Wales said it would seek clarification about the contact area after claiming that many of its players had their legs held together while trying to present the ball.

Expect another close game.

– Lee Stace

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