The All Blacks team to play the Eagles has been named, and the talking point is how far the selectors have gone in giving game time to the wider squad.
Only three players from the run-on team in Brisbane on October 18 have been retained in the Soldier Field run-on: Dagg, Jane and Read. Across the park we see players who have been used off the bench in previous tests against Tier One teams.
- Joe Moody (5 tests)
- Nathan Harris (1)
- Charlie Faumuina (23)
- Jeremy Thrush (9)
- Patrick Tuipulotu (4)
- Victor Vito (24)
- Sam Cane (20)
- Kieran Read (69)
- TJ Perenara (7)
- Aaron Cruden (35)
- Charles Piutau (11)
- Sonny Bill Williams (19)
- Ryan Crotty (9)
- Cory Jane (52)
- Israel Dagg (44)
The comparison in test caps with the Brisbane test is huge.
- The run-on team in Chicago has a total of 332 test caps. In Brisbane it was 715.
- Some more context: in Chicago there will be 389 test caps sitting on the bench.
You can’t argue with the selectors’ long view that this is the match to give the fringe players extra experience. From here to the World Cup, there will be few other good opportunities:
- 1 November 2014 v USA (Chicago)
- 8 November 2014 v England (London)
- 15 November 2014 v Scotland (Edinburgh)
- 22 November 2014 v Wales (Cardiff)
- 8 July 2015 v Samoa (Apia)
- 17 July 2015 v Argentina (Christchurch)
- 25 July 2015 v South Africa (South Africa TBD)
- 8 August 2015 v Australia (Sydney)
- 15 August 2015 v Australia (Auckland)
But – and it’s one of those buts that are always swirling around in the intestines – the scale of the changes presents many banana skin opportunities:
- Motivation for the Eagles – as if they need any more (playing at home against the best team in the world), their coach is bound to rark them further by telling them they are being disrespected. And that they now have a real chance at a huge upset.
- The Law of Small Differences – small gaps in skill and experience add up to big differences on the score board. The gap has narrowed.
- Leadership – the ABs’ Chicago tight five, in particular, are a very raw unit. They’re going to have to do a lot of the take-forward and narrow defence in the opening quarter. Whitelock and Retallick have been massive in that role this year, and they’ll be missed hugely. If Kieran Read has to play in tight to guide the five around, we lose a big attacking option out wide.
- Combinations – winning test rugby is about the instinctive connections between players: knowing what to expect of the other in the split-second. Hooker and jumper, half-back and first-five, the midfield. That takes game time, not practice time.
It all adds up to an intriguing lesson about the quality of the coaches. Have they actually instilled knowledge and skill and belief in the whole squad, or just polished the top echelon?
The usual expectation is that the Eagles would play with passion and discipline for the first quarter, before the ABs win by 60+ and going away. But this team selection suggests the Eagles will stay in the hunt at least through the first half.
Expect to see Shag go to the bench earlier than usual – maybe at half-time bringing on Retallick, Mealamu and Savea – to close out the match. Maybe also see Carter sub on for Crotty not Cruden, giving a Cruden-Carter-SBW midfield.
What is really needed in this scenario, of course, is for Ned to be in the stands at Soldier Field yelling advice to all and sundry. Bugger.