My heart says the All Blacks will win this week's RWC semi at Eden Park. My heart can never do anything else, I am Kiwi across every cell of my body. My head however is saying something else. I can't shake off the feeling that the Wallabies have the upper hand. Here's why:
- Australian teams are dominant this year over the All Blacks, the Reds winning the Super Fifteen, and the Wallabies caning the All Blacks recently in Brisbane, and last year in Hong Kong (luckily perhaps). There is a sense of 1991 here, with the tide swinging their way.
- They are a young side on the up, and while we have some great young players, there are many who are rather long in the tooth. Woodcock, Mealamu, Thorne, A. Williams, McCaw—the heart of the pack, are all old. We clearly need to renew the side, can they hang on for two more games?
- Add to that the injuries. First, we have lost Carter our playmaker, and the best player I have ever seen (Murray Deaker and Fred Allen agree with that so I am in good company). Secondly, there is the problem of Richie M, the best openside of all time in my mind (or Jones?), who is hanging on by a thread. Three, there is Read who is the best number eight in the world when fit, but at the moment looks a shadow of himself. We are very vulnerable generally, and especially around the fringes with these injuries. Then there is the injury to Dagg—we need him as we lack penetration otherwise. Who knows how Cruden will front up, although he is a better player than a year ago.
- Then there is the brilliance of Genea and Pocock who can target the weakness we have in pace and fitness around the fringes and getting to breakdowns. It will take an enormous effort to keep these two people from taking control.
- Then there is the Quade factor—he is due for a big one. If he sparks, we are in big trouble.
- The 'choke factor.' I hate the idea of us as chokers, but we haven't managed to win these games for a few decades now—can we do it this time?
I am not writing us off though. I think there is a chance we may win this game, but the odds are against us.
- We are at home, at Eden Park. A team has to be a heck of a lot better than the AB's to beat us there. Even the great 1971 Lions side could only draw at Eden Park back in the day. The 1978 Aussies, 1979 French, 1994 French sides all did it. But, they were one offs and it is years since it has happened. It is a huge advantage. It could tip the balance. We can beat a better side on Eden Park.
- The injuries and problems can work to bring the AB's together. While it weakens us at one level, it will drive out any complacency and bring a fierce determination. The truth is, the AB's are always at their most dangerous when they are on the ropes like this. Remember the Baby Blacks, the second test in 1970, 1971, 1976, and so on. We are fighters, Kiwi battlers. The very fact that there is every reason that Aussie should win says, there is hope. These guys will not die trying.
- Then there is the sense of a nation behind the AB's like I have not seen for decades. I wonder if it was a little like this in 1956 when we faced the mighty Boks after losing 4-0 to them in 1949. The combination of the AB's struggles with injuries, the natural disasters especially the earthquakes, and a 24 year hunger for another world cup, will make these guys play above anything we have seen. I hope the crowd are behind them big time, chanting, singing, and really rarking them up. That could carry them through.
- The South African game last week may help us. First, Pocock is unlikely to be allowed to get away with that much nonsense in the rucks again after that fiasco. Secondly, the Wallabies will possibly struggle to back up. That was a monumental game and they must be knackered.
- Then there is the Quade factor. Quade can win the game, or lose it. If the AB forwards can pull out one of their great vintage performances, and pressure can be placed on Genea and Cooper, then there is hope. If Beale is out, then that will also take a lot of attacking dynamism out. They don't look anything like the same danger without him.
- The one time we didn't choke was at home in 1987. We won, and we won well. Can we two-peat?
So, there is hope. My heart says, we will win, my head says, mmmm.