In the 2013 edition of the Rugby Championship (formerly known as the Tri-Nations) and the Bledisoe Cup, the Wallabies once again enter as huge underdogs regardless of the venue, with the All Blacks favorites to win the tournament and the head-to-head challenge they’ve been dominating for so long.
There’s no need to look at long forgotten history to come to that conclusion. While Australia lost to the British & Irish Lions in a three match showdown, the All Blacks had no problem devouring a French side experiencing its worst period in a very long time, sweeping all three games during June.
And between Australia and New Zealand? The last time the Wallabies beat the All-Blacks was in 2011, and the two sides actually drew their last encounter in the Bledisoe Cup match following the 2012 tournament, but any time it matters New Zealand have won, making it 20 wins for them out of the last 25 test matches.
The Wallabies present a lot more questions than the All Blacks do, with a new head coach and five uncapped players (Scott Sio, Scott Fardy, Nic White and Tevita Kuridrani) including Matt Toomua making his debut at Fly-Half. A lot of hope is being put on the 23-year old Brumbies star, who did a goo job in the sole win over the Lions while enjoying an excellent Super Rugby season, but facing the All-Blacks on a test debut is a very different matter.
More changes? Eight will be made to the last match Australia played, the third against the Lions: Ben Mowen will play at Number 8, James O’Connor moves to the wing and prop James Slipper, lock Rob Simmons, flankers Hugh McMeniman and Michael Hooper, fullback Jesse Mogg and Toomua given the starting lineup shirt.
For New Zealand, there will be six changes compared to their last test against France, with Aaron Cruden starting instead of the injured Dan Carter. Julian Savea makes his return to the left wing while Aaron Smith will start at Scrum-Half. Steve Luatua replaces Liam Messam at blindside and Tony Woodcock replacing Wyatt Crockett at loose-head due to injury. The biggest change, however, will be the return of Richie McCaw who took some time off this year.
New Zealand usually do a very good job against the talented Australian back three, and their ability to curb the talents of Jesse Mogg, Israel Folau and James O’Connor should be the difference in the opening test match of the 2013 Southern Hemisphere champioship.
Predictions – The previous matches between the sides at the ANZ have been very tight (the last three won by the All Blacks by a combined 10 points), but it seems that as we drift away from the talent the Wallabies have in their back three, New Zealand have an advantage at almost every position. Unless an injury derails their plans right from the start, it’s hard not seeing the All Blacks opening their 2013 campaign with a win.