Well short of best Wallabies line-up
October 17, 2013
Tevita Kuridrani must make an impact against the All Blacks, Greg Growden says © Getty Images
Due to a withering list of injuries, poor form and lack of ability, Australia's selectors have been forced to introduce 12 new players to the Wallabies ranks this season. Of that large group, only Scott Fardy, Israel Folau and Ben Mowen can really say they have grasped Test football. The rest have been up and down, or just found to be out of their depth.
The latest beckoned into the Coliseum is Peter Betham, who at the start of this year was rated New South Wales Waratahs' fourth- or fifth-best winger. So it's a big call for Ewen McKenzie to select Betham for the Dunedin Test - but really what other options has the Wallabies coach got as the list of important players sidelined through ailments compares in height to Mt Kosciusko. Betham ready for Test football? Probably not. But as McKenzie says: "There is no better way to make your mark than by playing well against the All Blacks."
We are not talking about any old All Blacks side. The Wallabies are facing a phenomenal All Blacks unit, with a pretty reasonable back three in Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Julian Savea. Adding to the menace is the revamped New Zealand midfield combination of Ben Smith, who would be vying with Kieran Read as the international player of the year, and Ma'a Nonu. If Betham can make his mark against this formidable opposition, then he certainly has made it.
Wingers Unavailable For The Wallabies
Elsewhere, several Wallabies in crucial positions have to show they can actually make a mark. Wallabies outside centre Tevita Kuridrani, in particular, must pick up his act. He was lucky not to have been dropped after his flawed effort against the Pumas in Rosario. Having failed to make an impact when used off the bench in earlier Tests, when he appeared affected by pressure prompting his ball-handling skills to disintegrate, his defence against Argentina was lamentable; expect a cricket score if Kuridrani's attempted tackles are as sloppy against the All Blacks. Let's just say the All Blacks will be feeling very relaxed in sighting Kuridrani at No.13, rather than the ever-reliable Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has again been shifted out to the wing.
The Wallabies scrummaging performance improved against Argentina, but it has to happen right from the start of the match, and not when the reinforcements, in particular Benn Robinson, take the field later in the game. McKenzie is showing extraordinary faith in his tight-head prop Ben Alexander, who has struggled appreciably against numerous packs this year. If the Wallabies are to be any hope of just being competitive, Alexander has to properly anchor their scrum, and get the required support from his second row. It appears at times that the problem has come from behind Alexander, prompting him in one Test to lash out at his other forwards following another scrum collapse.
While this is well short of Australia's best line-up, there are some encouraging signs. Fardy's absence, after a man-of-the-match performance against the Pumas, is not welcomed, but at least the balance of the back-row looks right, with Ben McCalman moving into No.8 and Mowen on the side. Nonetheless my tip is All Blacks by 15 points.
Wallabies: Israel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Peter Betham; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen; James Horwill (captain), Rob Simmons; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Replacements: Saia Fainga'a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Nic White, Mike Harris, Bernard Foley.
Follow live text commentary of the Bledisloe Cup Test between New Zealand and Australia on Saturday, October 19 from 7pm (NZDT), 5pm (AEDT) and 6am (GMT)
Do we actually want a third Bledisloe Cup Test, and if so should it be staged earlier in the year?
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Join the conversation with Greg on Twitter @GregGrowden
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin
After Brian O'Driscoll's emotional final Ireland appearance on home soil, and seeing the Six Nations boil down to a three-horse race, we bring you the Weekend in Pictures
Last year's thrashing at the hands of Wales was not the first time England have fallen to their rivals. Scrum Sevens looks at whether they have bounced back the following year