The three tests against the Pongos were nice, the SuperXV had its moments, and it’s always refreshing to see some good, honest provincial stuff in the ITM Cup.
But, doesn’t the blood get pumping at the thought of taking on the Boks and Wallabies? They are the measuring stick, partly because we meet them every year home and away, partly because they have better records against us than any others.
Tonight’s test against the Wallabies in Sydney has several special flavours: the 150th test between the two sides, the ABs going for a record 18th test win in a row, getting one hand on the Bledisloe, and giving the Sydney-siders some payback for daring to be happy about beating the Crusaders by a point a fortnight ago.
The commentary about the team selections by the two coaches has focused on Ewen Mackenzie preferring Kurtley Beale over Bernard Foley at first-five, and Shag going with Ben Smith over Israel Dagg at fullback. I reckon Shag got it right, and Ewen’s betting the house on a hope.
In my one-eyed assessment, man for man the ABs look much stronger across the park.
I reckon that Ashley-Cooper is the best centre in world rugby at the moment. It would be a narrower thing if Conrad was there at centre, but Fekitoa is a raw talent at the moment, and that spells danger.
And yes, I reckon Michael Hooper has a narrow edge on McCaw as a straight No. 7 because of his outright speed around the paddock. (McCaw’s experience can make up for some of that, and the game has evolved from the time when a pilfering breakaway had all the time in the world to nip in, steal the diamonds and get back to the bar in a tuxedo, but you have to respect Hooper.)
Of course rugby is a game of one team, not fifteen individuals. It’s how well they work together on the night that really matters.
And that’s why I reckon the coaches’ selections say something deep: Shag has put the team’s interests ahead of his loyalty to an individual, while McKenzie is showing that he feels the need to pull a rabbit from the hat because on paper his team just doesn’t look the goods.