Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Wallabies won't be pushover in Sydney

That's a reasonable assumption on this month's evidence as the All Blacks won their series with Wales and the Wallabies lost their way against England. Photo / Getty Images
That's a reasonable assumption on this month's evidence as the All Blacks won their series with Wales and the Wallabies lost their way against England. Photo / Getty Images

We are back into Super Rugby mode next week and the three-game sprint to the finals.

My mind has jumped even further ahead to the Rugby Championship and the All Blacks' initial defence of the Bledisloe Cup. They've held the transtasman prize since 2003 and should maintain that dominance when the duel resumes in two months.

That's a reasonable assumption on this month's evidence as the All Blacks won their series with Wales and the Wallabies lost their way against England. You can imagine the "easy, easy, easy" chants coming from some sections of over-confident All Black supporters.

It won't be like that when the Bledisloe Cup begins in Sydney on August 20 then repeats at the Cake Tin a week later. The All Blacks most recent loss was in Sydney last year when they were humbled 27-19 as the Wallabies dominated the scrums and breakdowns. Say that again. Yes it does happen.

The sparky two-try test debut from Nehe Milner-Skudder was tarnished by the team's shortfalls. The All Blacks staggered against the pressure the Wallaby loose forwards Michael Hooper and David Pocock exerted and their tight five complemented. The errors grew on a night when the All Blacks lacked precision.

Go back another year to 2014 when the All Blacks won by a point in Brisbane and battled to a 12-all stalemate in Sydney. It's an emerging pattern the All Blacks need to dismantle.

We'll get another look at the Wallabies tonight where their backline looks to have a better shape with Matt Toomua outside Bernard Foley to give them twin-pivot choices while the massive Will Skelton and Rob Simmons have been reinstated at lock.

The man they are missing most is the abrasive and limpet-like Pocock who tackles heavily, works breakdowns aggressively, is a leader and combines so strongly with Hooper. He is expected to be fit from a fractured eye socket for the August Bledisloes.

Misgivings also exist about loose-head prop James Slipper in much the way the All Black coaches have worked with Wyatt Crockett. Both men are superb around the field but as taller props they get in scrum trouble with referees. The stockier Scott Sio was becoming more prominent but faltered in the opening test and has slipped to the bench while Crockett looks to be the impact man more and more.

The All Blacks are not sorted either and are searching for the right backline combinations as injury, absences and the form of Julian Savea have bitten into some plans.

Beauden Barrett could add another tasty five-eighths riddle with a strong start tonight while the fullback-three-quarters division remains a fluid and murky blend.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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