Andrew Slack: Numbers on NZ birth certificates favour Wallabies

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The Wallabies haven't held the Bledisloe Cup since 2002. They've won only five of the past 27 cup encounters, and at tonight's venue, they've tasted success just twice in seven matches against the All Blacks.

You've got to love history, and thankfully for Australia, that's all those numbers are. They will have no bearing on what unfolds in a game I honestly believe the Wallabies should and will win. They are a young team on the rise, and it's yet to be confirmed if the All Blacks are on the wane, but you only have to grab a cluster of birth certificates for proof they are an ageing outfit.

In his first game as Wallabies coach, Ewen McKenzie has done what Robbie Deans consistently failed to do. He's selected the best team available.

Selection is a subjective matter, but the ultimate marker is that everyone who makes the final 23 deserves to be there. There would be those who think Quade Cooper should be the starting first five, and some might be inclined to fiddle with other personnel, but there is not a single player chosen who doesn't have sound logic behind his inclusion.

Matt Toomua's elevation tells us a lot about the new direction the Wallabies will travel under the guidance of McKenzie. The man they call "Link", is the ultimate pragmatist. He is intelligent, analytical, has the capacity to think outside the square, values loyalty, but ultimately will defer to what he thinks has the best chance of getting the job done.

As Reds coach, he has been the enigmatic Cooper's greatest mentor and supporter in the past couple of seasons. However, in a new role and new circumstance, he feels Cooper can best serve the Wallabies by being brought into action mid-game, when defences and strategies mightn't be as hard and fast as they tend to be during the opening exchanges.

Toomua is more your textbook five-eighths and the key to any hopes of regaining the long yearned for Bledisloe Cup may be the opening gambits between the two sides, conservative might be preferential to quirky.

Much public discussion has predictably centred around Cooper and how he will be used, but what makes Australian supporters optimistic is that this is a Wallaby side without weaknesses. Christian Lealiifano, Israel Folau, Jesse Mogg, Ben Mowen are all relative newcomers to this level, but each of them looks born to it.

On the other hand, the All Black clock is ticking. Four truly influential players of recent years who are in the present squad are 32-year-old Richie McCaw and a trio of 31-year-olds in Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu and the injured Dan Carter. And they were all a couple of classes at school behind hookers Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu.

- NZ Herald

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