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Brent Pope: Beware The Wounded Wallabies!

Brent Pope: Beware The Wounded Wallabies!

RTE rugby pundit Brent Pope gives us his thoughts on Saturday’s final Tri Nations clash of 2005 – the meeting of arch rivals New Zealand and Australia – and the new Haka.

“…Graham Henry and his All Blacks could be forgiven for thinking that their crucial win over South Africa last week will be enough to hand them back the Tri Nations trophy…”

But be warned Graham, the “Wounded Wallabies” can be at their most dangerous when they are written off. With nothing tangible left to play for, away from home and with a hospital ward-full of injuries, nobody gives Eddie Jones’ “out-of-sorts” Australia a chance in hell on Saturday.

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But by their very natures, the Aussies like nothing better than raining on a Kiwi’s parade, especially in front of 60,000 fanatical All Black supporters in Auckland.

New Zealand are not without their own problems, and the loss, through suspension, of their enforcer Jerry Collins is one that the Wallaby backrow will surely look to capitalise on. Collins is without peer when it comes to the aggressive defensive hit, and without him, New Zealand can appear a little soft up front. Collins is a quiet achiever, but a natural leader who commands huge respect from his fellow teammates. His replacement Jerome Kaino is definitely a promising young prospect, but still lacks Collins’ mana (respect). It will be interesting to see how Kaino, named the IRB’s young player of 2004, steps up to the big time.

In the All Black backline Henry has surprisingly persisted with Canterbury’s Leon MacDonald at out-half, ahead of North Harbour youngster Luke McAlister. The latter looked far more assured than MacDonald when he came on at number 10 for the last ten minutes in Dunedin last Saturday, and he quickly caused the Springbok backs plenty of trouble with his intelligent chip-and-chase game.

In the Australian camp there have been repeated calls of the resignation of coach Eddie Jones, but the manner in which the under strength Aussies fronted up against the Springboks in Perth in their last outing, showed that they still have plenty of exciting young players coming through the system.

One player that has really stood out is Queensland’s young full-back Drew Mitchell. He has an uncanny knack of always beating the first tackle, and along with former South Africa Under-21 captain Clyde Rathbone and ex-Rugby League genius Matty Rodgers, the Australians have an attacking back three to match most nations in the world – except ironically the All Blacks.

New Zealand will have been delighted with many aspects of last week’s play, notably the scrums and mauls where they managed to disrupt the larger and much vaunted South African forward pack. Considering the South Africans wheeled the Wallabies off their own ball in Perth two weeks ago, it seems pretty obvious that the All Blacks will also target the inexperienced Australian scrum.

All Black hooker Keven Mealamu had a brilliant outing in Carisbrook, scoring the winning try and creating Leon MacDonald’s effort as well. Mealamu has been criticised for his lack of lineout accuracy, but he cannot be faulted for his dynamic play around the field which puts him down as one of the leading number 2s in the world.

New Zealand, who were Tri Nations’ champions in 2002 and 2003, have too much to lose this weekend. How can they allow Australia to steal their thunder? Yet with Collins out, and the emergence of some hot new Australian talent, the game may be closer than we think. Thankfully though, I have not missed a prediction yet – including New Zealand’s loss to South Africa in Capetown. The All Blacks to win it in the last quarter.

What do you think of the new Haka – the “Kapa O Pango (Team in Black)? Most rugby people I know were all talking about New Zealand’s new Haka last Saturday night. Just for the day “Ka Mate-Ka Mate” was replaced by “Kapa o Pango”. The new Maori war cry was rehearsed all week by the All Blacks, and it is felt that the modern rendition reflects New Zealand and the multi-cultural mix of our people.

The throat-slicing action at the end of Kapa o Pango certainly put new meaning into pre-match intimidation and the sight of Piri Weepu’s outstretched tongue would have been enough to send any English colonial back to his long ship! Brilliant stuff.