All Blacks unlikely to play it by the numbers
Canon Rugby In Focus: Forget about the numbers on the players' backs when the All Blacks run out against the Wallabies in Perth. Many of them probably won't add up.
It’s just a number we are told as age creeps up on us all.
Kieran Read may be employing the same philosophy against Australia in Perth.
The All Blacks captain will wear his customary No8 in the western state, but it would be a massive surprise if he doesn’t spend some of the game at blindside flanker.
Ardie Savea is the official short side flanker with Sam Cane on the openside but, given his power and speed off the mark, Savea is tailor made to come off the back of an attacking scrum.
He also suits a game plan that would see the No8 range wide to the wings as Read did when Julian Savea was in the team.
His pace, power and ball skills give the All Blacks something fresh, something they haven’t had in one loose forward in a long time - perhaps as far back as Michael Jones.
But it is not a surprise to see Read named at No8. He has worn that number 110 times in tests and, if nothing else, there is a sense of proprietary politics at play.
So the loose forwards the public has wanted to see start together, but not in the starting combination many desire. But don’t worry the numbers on their backs may not matter.
The reality is they could wear letters on their backs for all the significance the numbers six and eight might have on the roles Read and Savea play on Saturday.
The same goes at fullback where Beaudean Barrett will again start with a licence to roam, to pop up in the front line, providing twin points to attack from with Richie Mo’unga, who will wear No10, on the other side of the ruck.
It was never an obviously successful tactic against South Africa in Wellington because that game didn’t allow for it, but it might work against an Australian team whose defence probably won’t be as quick and effective as the Springbok’s.
And, if it does work, if the All Blacks do at last click on attack, then this could be an intriguing test.
The All Blacks come into the match having beaten Australia three times last year, and keen to mark the passing of the great Sir Brian Lochore with an appropriate performance.
“There have been little things done all week,” coach Steve Hansen said. “We had a good presentation from Sam Whitelock talking about Sir Brian’s career, and had some other people speak during that presentation. And we’ll also be putting his All Black number ‘637’ on the jersey. We’re proud to be doing it.”
There is also chat that having the Bledisloe Cup at stake will focus All Blacks minds, and that there will be no lack in motivation given some comments made by former Wallabies captain Phil Waugh.
But it is hard to discern anything outrageously provocative in what the old loose forward said; instead, it seems on the money.
He noted the All Blacks were coming off a draw when they really should have beaten South Africa and had lost to Ireland and the Springboks in recent tests.
All of this is true.
He also said it was a big game for the All Blacks, whose dominance on the world stage had ebbed a bit in the last year or so.
Again, hard to quibble.
But somehow this has been construed to suggest he said the All Blacks are vulnerable. He didn’t, and they’re no more or less vulnerable than whenever they play Australia who, despite their poor record against the All Blacks for the last 15 years, can still conjure a win here and there.
Admittedly that hasn’t happened much since they handed over the Bledisloe Cup at Eden Park in 2003, with the All Blacks winning 36 of the 45 tests they’ve played against Australia under first Graham Henry and now Steve Hansen.
There have been two draws and seven Wallaby wins.
It is a lopsided rivalry but it doesn’t mean the All Blacks will automatically win on Saturday.
And it doesn’t reduce the interest in the sold out test, especially with the World Cup on the horizon.
The All Blacks are long overdue a convincing performance.
Read needs to show he is heading back to the sort of form that once made him among the best loose forwards in the game. The same goes for Rieko Ioane on the wing.
Barrett and Mo’unga need to prove this 10/15 ploy is worth persisting with and Owen Franks needs to show he can still do more than just hold up a scrum.
And Scott Barrett, freshly back from injury, can assuage a nation worried that the All Blacks World Cup hopes are as dislocated as Brodie Retallick’s shoulder.
But the real intrigue is in the loose forwards. Read will wear eight and Savea six, but how prescriptive will those numbers be?
Most All Blacks fans are keen to see Savea given a crack at No8. They’ll be happy to see it with him wearing six.
The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.
All Blacks team named for Test against Australia
Test caps in brackets.
1. Joe Moody (38)
2. Dane Coles (62)
3. Owen Franks (107)
4. Scott Barrett (29)
5. Samuel Whitelock (109)
6. Ardie Savea (36)
7. Sam Cane (61)
8. Kieran Read - captain (119)
9. Aaron Smith (84)
10. Richie Mo’unga (10)
11. Rieko Ioane (25)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (35)
13. Jack Goodhue (8)
14. Ben Smith (78)
15. Beauden Barrett (75)
16. Codie Taylor (42)
17. Atu Moli (1)
18. Angus Ta’avao (5)
19. Patrick Tuipulotu (22)
20. Matt Todd (18)
21. TJ Perenara (56)
22. Ngani Laumape (11)
23. George Bridge (2)