Yes, yes, yes. The All Blacks are favourites to win tonight.
The TAB has them at $1.07, with Wales at $7.50, and the winning margin split at 17.5 points. We play the game not to see how clever the bookies are, but rather to let the players decide the future for themselves. Just ask Leicester City.
There are five ways I reckon it could go pear-shaped for the All Blacks tonight.
One of the reasons, I think, that the All Blacks start the year badly is that they come together from different franchises who have their own ways of doing things. It just takes time to replace those patterns with new ones, and to absorb the subtleties of the players around you.
Just think about how the backline has to move:
Highlander (Smith) to Chiefs (Cruden) to Highlander (Fekitoa) to Crusader (Crotty) to Hurricane (Savea) or Highlander (Smith or Naholo).
The combos potentially get worse in the second half when Shag goes to the bench. During the World Cup the bench added immensely to breaking open the opposition, but that was after an intense period of training together.
That’s why I reckon Shag will be keeping it very simple tonight.
If there’s going to be any grit in the gearbox it could be the tiniest bit of uncertainty about who’s in charge and who I’m following and where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to doing at any particular moment.
The great thing about McCaw’s period as captaincy was how it evolved over the years into an unthinkingness within the team when they were in tight spots. Think about how they closed out the game against Ireland in 2013.
I have no doubt that Read has the ability and the temperament to grow into the role. But what he needs is games under the belt. That starts tonight.
There’s plenty of other leadership experience around the park: Coles, Cane and Smith are captains of their franchises. But the smooth flow of decision-making is going to be one of the fascinating tests tonight.
Thank goodness that thuggery has been (nearly) eliminated from the game. But, as we’ve seen in the Super Rugby comp, players can get their timing or entrance or technique wrong in a way that gets a yellow or red card. And deservedly so, because rugby is not tiddly winks and players need the protection of the rules if they’re going to do what they do at a zillion miles an hour.
Brain farts can happen in the 1st minute or the 79th minute. And new All Blacks are more vulnerable because their blood pressure is up and there may be too many voices in their head.
I think we can probably all agree to get past the fact that Wayne Barnes was in Cardiff on 6 October 2007, and just let him get on with the business tonight. I’m not so worried about him as George Ayoub who will be doing the dozing in the TMO box. When they wake him up for a look-see he’s likely to get the channel wrong, and then require 57 replays of the wrong angle before making an incomprehensible decision.
Oh, and who’s this Aussie bloke Will Houston who’ll be running the touch? If it looks like Michael Cheika in drag, we’re in trouble.
Oh, the other side might have something to do with it?
The boyos may just play the game of their lives tonight. Everything might click, and they’ll take the points from every little gasp of a possibility. A loose ball, a wayward kick, an intercept: if they take the chances offered by an out of sorts All Blacks, they can definitely come out ahead.