1 Nov

All Blacks v Wallabies, Hong Kong: Match Preview
by Tracey Nelson
1 Nov 2008

Make no mistake, this game is not a dead rubber. You only need to talk to any of the players or coaches of either side to very quickly realise we are not going to be witnessing a festival display of rugby. This game played in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong is going to be a full-on, hard fought, test match.

Both sides have named the strongest teams they can currently field, and there are several key match-ups across the paddock. Of most interest will be the clash of the two 2nd 5s, both playing out of their normal position. Dan Carter, best known as a mercurial 1st 5, has been shifted out one to allow Stephen Donald to have a run at 1st 5. The reasoning around this was that neither player has seen much game time in the last month, it gives the option of left and right foot kicking, and Carter’s defence at 2nd 5 is seen as being stronger than Donald’s.

Stirling Mortlock, Australian captain and one of the world’s best centres, has shifted in one to allow Ryan Cross to play at centre while first choice 2nd 5 Berrick Barnes awaits his re-entry to test rugby after an injury from off the bench. When asked how he felt about matching up against Carter, Mortlock replied “it’s a huge challenge in front of me, I have a lot of respect for him, and thought he did well in Brisbane when slotted into 12 – I’m looking forward to the opportunity of marking him”.

The loose forward battle once again promises to be an uncompromising affair, with the All Black trio of Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo taking on Dean Mumm, George Smith and Richard Brown. Mumm and Brown are recent new-comers to test rugby, but Brown in particular impressed when he came on as replacement No 8 early in the last test match in Brisbane. This test is being played under the Global ELVs, not the ELVs used in the TriNations and Super 14, so there are no sanctions (free kicks) at the breakdown and instead we return back to full penalties.

When questioned during the week as to how he felt this might affect pace the game as both sides have known it this year, McCaw stated that it depends on what a team’s philosophy is and that “you can tap a penalty too” but conceded that there will probably be a few more lineouts than we have seen during the recent TriNations series. “It will actually be quite interesting to see how it unfolds, and we’ll have played under the old laws, the TriNations ELVs, and now the global ELVs, so by the end of this tour we should have a fairly good idea which ones are the best”.

Both sides come into this game with different preparation. The All Blacks have had most players involved in at least a couple of games of domestic rugby in the ANZC compeition, whereas the Wallabies have just been in camp and working on their fitness and conditioning. While the All Blacks should have the edge in match fitness, the Wallabies may well have the upper hand in match tactics and execution having been together as a group for the last few weeks. They also had training camps in Darwin and played in Brisbane to get used to heat and humidity, something the All Blacks won’t have had much conditioning for coming from a variable New Zealand spring.

Mortlock and McCaw both made reference during the week to the style of open, running rugby both teams tend to play when matched up. Therefore, we can reasonably expect to see some fast paced rugby played in warm conditions on what is a very good looking pitch at Hong Kong Stadium, despite it cutting up a bit as the Wallabies had their captain’s run this morning. Look too for some kicks from the Aussies to test Isaia Toeava at fullback and new cap Hosea Gear on the right wing under the high ball.

With the large ex-pat population in Hong Kong, and the plane loads of supporters who arrived from both New Zealand and Australia in the last couple of days, expect to see just slightly more support for the All Blacks than the Wallabies. The buzz around town is decidedly present, and it will be a well pumped up crowd awaiting kick off at 4.30pm on Saturday afternoon. Expect this game to be a war of attrition, and it will undoubtedly come down to which side can utilise their bench most effectively in the last 20 minutes of the game.