Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Sydney showcase lets All Blacks gauge rivals

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The All Blacks will need that current disparity to remain if they want to leave Sydney on August 17 with a transtasman victory. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks will need that current disparity to remain if they want to leave Sydney on August 17 with a transtasman victory. Photo / Getty Images

Sydney is frothing with sporting expectation as headline events saturate the city for the next month.

Bold plans have also been unveiled to build a roof over the ANZ Stadium at Homebush and alter the seating at a cost of A$250 million as the NSW Government continues its push for eye-catching entertainment.

The opening act in the July sports package is the last in the Wallabies-Lions series and another inspection window for the All Black selectors.

They've had two glimpses of the combinations and style the Wallabies have offered and can formulate their responses when the sides open the Rugby Championship in Sydney in two months.

Under James Horwill's command the Australian pack has a harder edge to it, certainly in their tight five where their setpiece work has picked up a notch, although they have battled in the loose to combat some of the Lions' energy.

Ben Mowen is dependable and their lineout tactician, Wycliff Palu, brings the power and drive at No8 and Michael Hooper has been the openside scavenger.

They have knitted together to blunt most of the Lions' forays but have been forced into more reactive duties rather than fruitful sorties.

Pitch a likely All Black trio of Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Liam Messam against them and you would fancy an advantage for the men in black - only in theory, mind.

In practice, Read has been a commanding presence for most of the season, with his vigorous running game and strong defence, while Messam has been a mixture as he tries to find the right blend for his game on the international stage.

McCaw is the mystery. His pedigree is suited to the Hall of Fame but we have not seen him this season. He tells us he will be ready and history gives us a similar assurance, but we won't know for sure until he runs out in his familiar number seven strip.

Behind the pack it gets tricky.

Will Genia is well ahead of any other halfback on the globe, Adam Ashley-Cooper brings the same poise and influence as Conrad Smith and Israel Folau has made an impressive start in his third code.

His duel with another big man, Julian Savea, should be as compelling as his current combat with George North.

Christian Leali'ifano showed his sound temperament and wonderful goalkicking, Joe Tomane is strong and reliable and Kurtley Beale is an inventive man in the mood to make amends for his social misdemeanours.

That leaves the crucial first five-eighths area, where Dan Carter remains a level above James O'Connor in those duties.

Carter may have lost a click of speed but his rugby brain still burns brighter than most. For a decade his instincts have been tuned into running a backline at the very top level. He has stared down most situations while O'Connor has just slapped the L-plates on his 10 jersey.

The All Blacks will need that current disparity to remain if they want to leave Sydney on August 17 with a transtasman victory.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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