As the All Blacks had made good preparations over the week, news broke today that sudden injury had hit the selected match-day squad. It subdued the quiet confidence building within the group. While not ideal, it might not be devastating because every one of the players involved knows that everyone of them have a part to play in the All Blacks legacy.
Skipper Kieran Read and head coach Steve Hansen faced the media this afternoon to announce that Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris would play no further part in The Rugby Championship. The young man had pulled an ACL which is, disappointing to say the least. Not the positive message media and select onlookers were anticipating, while the rest of the group effortlessly ran through some basic drills and practice at North Sydney Oval.
The injury scenario will see Codie Taylor start, with Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles now on the bench. The Crusaders hooker (pictured)is a driven young man who should fit in perfectly. Well coached in the Southern side, he has benefited from being Coles deputy, so now gets a [unfortunate] opportunity. The man sitting on the bench himself had suffered a debilitating injury to his ribs two weeks ago, so questions were immediately asked of Hansen, on that front.
“Colezie is a professional and will step in. He is fit, and we’re confident he will be ready. He’ll be right, and if there is an injury we know he [Coles] can play 80 minutes if need be but Cody is given a chance now.” Hansen had reflected that while it has been an awful bit of bad luck for Harris, the team must pick up and carry.
A Part to Play in the All Blacks Legacy
Not only do the players today aim to begin The Rugby Championship (TRC) Saturday with success, but they know it is important for both sides. Read said that “the first game is pretty crucial. It’s a massive occasion.”
The team had altered their regular schedule this year, to arrive early in Sydney. By Sunday night, the team were bedding down ‘over the ditch’. While acclimatizing in a warmer environment, Read explained that is was ‘great’ to run around in the sunny conditions. “It’s been great to be here (at North Sydney Oval) and enjoy this fine weather.” The day had dawned with near perfect mid-winter sunshine–for the All Blacks and for the Wallabies.
Across town, Stephen Moore and his men enjoyed that sides Captains Run at their ‘home ground’. ANZ Stadium; the old Olympic Stadium before the capacity was reduced [from 100,00 to 83,500]. That arena is starting to feel like a ‘Fortress’ for them and at the Australian teams press conference, as much was said.
Working hard to carry on World Cup improvements
Moore and Wallabies assistant coach Stephen Larkin each made comments to the effect that the 2015 Rugby World Cup was an achievement for that group. Something they had intended to improve on–and while the June test series loss to England seemed to delay that, a win over New Zealand would show they are ‘on track’. The final had many elements that could still be used as motivation. If not for the possibilities, but for the team members present.
As detailed by Last Word On Sports writer Chris Duffy, the Wallabies 2016 TRC squad is made up a small group of senior players. The return of those men, plus the introduction of new blood has the Aussies in a buoyant mood. The mix has been somewhat predictable, if not for two surprises in that team selection.
Scott Fardy had been omitted for young flanker Ben McCalman. The Western Force loose forward appears to be a pick for the near future–at 28 years old, he has four years on Fardy. While his Force side did under-perform, he had been a standout, along with Matt Hodgson. The number eight had recovered from an injury in the June series. The change should not alter the lineout plays, as McCalman has trained well and will know the combinations well, Moore said.
Mix of new and old
McCalman is one player from the Force who has been selected, while the second noteworthy positional selections were the outside backs. Fellow Force player Dane Haylett-Petty who had a ‘breakout’ 2016 at fullback, he now has to run-out at left wing. Amid a year of turmoil and frustration, selection must be seen as a bonus. He will need to re-adjust his game, just as Israel Folau is picked at fullback. Not at centre, like where he has played this season for the Waratahs. Interesting call by Cheika.
Both are what you might call ‘the future’. Beside them will be several senior players. Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau and Will Genia. The elder statesman of Australian rugby return, and Larkin for one is happy with those choices. “We’re pretty fortunate to have that base of experience. Those guys all have put in a lot for this team, including the RWC final.” Giteau has only just returned though, and Genia has little regular first-class rugby but ‘trust in these men’ is the call by the Wallabies.
Both men recognized the quality of the opposition. Each would know that the All Blacks Legacy is something that they might like to emulate. Larkin remarking that teams go into big matches like the Bledisloe Cup quite aware of the occasion; and they got-up for other prized trophies like the Cook Cup, wanting to play at their best. “You’re are always searching for that win in every match you run out for” so the Bledisloe is just another occasion the Wallabies prepare for.
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) August 19, 2016
A big one mind you. One where no current squad member has held the Cup before–Larkin and fellow assistant Nathan Gray have had the privilege.
All Blacks Legacy
On the holders side, is a strong ownership of that trophy, as well as desire to regain the Rugby Championship. Held by the Australian side, the opening game means a lot in the scheme of the International season. For the All Blacks, it can carry on a strong legacy of success–the Welsh series was a good step, but this is a huge step-up. Add to that injuries and a ground where the side has lost on a number of occasions, and Steve Hansen may not be all smiles.
He might think the other side are a little rusty. Asked ‘is there any advantage in having so much time to prepare?’. Moore replied “It was good. We got together as a team. Guys worked all week and then went home for the weekends. I’d like to think it is beneficial. The team conditioning is great, so we are ready”. In a way, they might have had time to prepare.
Bledisloe Cup is on the line
This match is the opening game in the 2016 Rugby Championship. It doubles as match one of the Bledisloe Cup series. Both are crucial to each side, although a TRC championship might look good for New Zealand. They have held that trophy for a number of years now, so regaining that will make-up for the loss of experience [with senior AB’s retiring]. Each man has a definite part to play in the All Blacks Legacy. The team looked happy at training (see picture) even if the news of Harris’ injury will give a sense of gloom.
For the Wallabies, it will mean a lot more. They are ranked fourth in the world and will surely want to move upward. Winning on Saturday will help improve that (as England are not playing). Even if they were to win, the following game in Wellington must be won too–a solitary victory is in some cases is hollow. They have not strung together a series of victories for sometime: lost 29 matches and only won seven games/drawn twice.
The Bledisloe Cup might very well bring out the best in both nations. Even with injury [New Zealand] or selection changes [Australia]. When the largest trophy in the Southern Hemisphere is on the line, it brings out the best in both nations.
Last Word On Sports will report live from ANZ Stadium, with thanks to the Australian Rugby Union.
“Main photo credit”