Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: A battle of wits with an unarmed opponent

Australian Head Coach Michael Cheika. Photo / Greg Bowker
Australian Head Coach Michael Cheika. Photo / Greg Bowker

Mind games from Michael Cheika. Really? The Wallabies' team naming delay was supposed to have the All Blacks on edge.

You can imagine the All Blacks' brains trust, can't you, cradling their laptops and phones, anxiously waiting to see what combinations the Wallabies were going to throw at them for tonight's world record attempt and then rushing off to rejig their game plans?

It was a case of a section of writers who cover rugby in Australia, delivering a limp analysis to an increasingly frustrated audience over the Ditch.

Did they seriously believe Cheika was uncertain about his choices, that the medical staff wanted more time to make calls on the fitness of players or more preposterously, that Cheika was looking to unnerve the All Blacks?

Putting that team naming pause down to some new wave strategy was another bit of garbage to add to the growing pile of Australian rugby rubbish.

We poke the sporting borax as much as those from the Sunburnt Country like to throw it our way about issues in other codes.

However there is also rising dissatisfaction about the way Australian chief executive Bill Pulver and his men are administering rugby at a national level, the slump in Super Rugby quality and the lack of attention to the game at lower levels.

Tonight's test is crucial for both sides on many levels.

It is the chance for the All Blacks to redress previous stumbles at the world record for successive victories and showcase the skills which have pushed them to new levels of performance. They know they have the all-round firepower and have to dispense that properly.

This is also the Wallabies' stage to match themselves against the best and show they are making progress in a dress rehearsal for both squads' trips to the Northern Hemisphere.

The Wallabies have stacks of talent but have lacked clarity about their organisation and been unable to stitch together coherent strategies. They were kneecapped 42-8 in Sydney, then went with the niggle in Wellington and played on the struggles of French ref Romaine Poite to reduce the losing margin to 29-9. They need a better plan for the third meeting.

Slam bang in the middle of the combat is referee Nigel Owens, a man who has brought a layer of humanity with the accuracy of his work and who will be a crucial component in the action at Postcode 1024 tonight.

Owens controlled their duel last year at Eden Park which began this world record quest - and the repeat meeting in the World Cup final. The All Blacks triumphed 41-13 in Auckland, then 34-17 at Twickenham. Little since then persuades me the result will be different tonight.

- 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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