Wallabies have pride at stake

Having last beaten the All Blacks 27-19 seven years ago, the success-starved Wallabies could be dangerous beasts when they challenge the favourites at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

That sole triumph against the All Blacks in their last 18 tests and none this season in 26 Super Rugby clashes against NZ franchises is all the motivation Australia needs to restore a sliver of pride.

Sure it is a dead rubber with the All Blacks having retained the Bledisloe Cup with a glorious late try to clinch it in Dunedin last up. But a much-improved Wallabies team made them sweat for it.

Having also seen the All Blacks snatch a one-point win in Cape Town against a South African team they had previously hammered 57-0, Australia will have gained confidence from their two drawn results against the Boks.

What has made them so much more dangerous in recent games is the return to top form of halfback Will Genia and second-five Kurtley Beale who have combined so sweetly with first-five Bernard Foley.

With Israel Folau a constant threat from fullback, the Australian backs deserve the utmost respect despite their country’s shockingly poor Super Rugby demise this season.

With all three expert passers at enabling team-mates to hit the ball at pace, the All Blacks will need to maintain the splendid defensive record they have built under popular Wayne Smith’s reign.

If Beauden Barrett doesn’t start after seeing stars when hit in the head in the Cape Town saga, Lima Sopoaga has the skills to be an ideal replacement.

Sopoaga doesn’t have Barrett’s exceptional acceleration but he reads the game beautifully and takes excellent options.

Richie Mo’unga’s promotion to the squad as cover for Barrett is just reward for an impressive season playing for the Crusaders and Canterbury. With versatile Damian McKenzie also capable of wearing the No 10 jersey, this country is blessed for class players in such a key position.

Meanwhile Braydon Ennor is yet another former Auckland lad who has slipped through the Blues net to play for a southern franchise.

With the Highlanders having long since snapped up the unwanted Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo, Canterbury and the Crusaders have been quick to sign former St Kentigern College student Ennor who leads the Mitre 10 premier try-scoring with 10 touchdowns.

But for a 36-32 win by Bay of Plenty against Waikato, Auckland would have dropped from the seven-team premiership instead of the hapless Mooloos.

At least Auckland were worthy opponents in losing 32-27 to Canterbury after the humiliation of having surrendered more than 50 points to North Harbour earlier in the competition.

One of North Harbour’s stars after performing so well for the disappointing Blues is another St Kent’s product in right wing Matt Duffie.

However last Saturday he had to play second fiddle to Harbour left wing Tevita Li who scored a record equalling five tries in their 64-33 romp against Taranaki’s second stringers.
Having previously made a magnificent comeback to lift the Ranfurly Shield from Canterbury, expect top of the premier table Taranaki to peak for the playoffs with a likely final against the red and blacks.

Harbour and Tasman are the other semi-finalists and Wellington are hot favourites to beat Northland, Bay of Plenty and Otago for championship honours.

  •  Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author