Can Wallabies coach Michael Cheika lead the side to victory over the All Blacks in Tokyo? Picture: AP
Can Wallabies coach Michael Cheika lead the side to victory over the All Blacks in Tokyo? Picture: AP

Chance to dislodge All Blacks from summit

THE Wallabies can end New Zealand's nine-year reign at the top of the world rugby rankings on Saturday.

All they have to do is defeat the All Blacks by 16 points.

When you've picked yourself off the floor laughing to resume reading this, stranger things have happened in sport.

If at the start of the year someone had told you Steve Smith would step down as Australian cricket captain due to ball tampering, Wayne Bennett would agree to coach South Sydney, and John Millman would knock Roger Federer out of the US Open, it would have resulted in questions asked about potential narcotics consumed.

Yet sport continues to defy logic and reason every day.

As implausible as it seems, the reality of World Rugby's rankings system is that if Australia wins by 16 or more points in Tokyo this weekend, the All Blacks will drop to second behind Ireland.

At the same time the Wallabies would move from their record low of seventh back up to fourth.

Can this actually happen? Unlikely.

Realistically we should expect a closer contest than the two walkovers Australia endured earlier this year.

The Wallabies have a big opportunity against the All Blacks.
The Wallabies have a big opportunity against the All Blacks.

The Bledisloe Cup has already been won 2-0 by the Kiwis, so there is nothing more than pride to play for in this dead rubber.

History shows that the All Blacks tend to switch off. When the Bledisloe series has been alive in the past decade, the Kiwis have won three times more often than in dead rubbers.

This time last year, with the Cup secured by New Zealand again, Australia pulled off a huge upset win, 23-18, in Brisbane.

Another consideration is the All Blacks' increasing tendency to leak points this year.

In their first five Tests, New Zealand did not concede more than 14 points in any game.

In their past four they've allowed totals of 24, 36, 17 and 30.

They also score plenty themselves, having lost just one game in 2018, but Australia will see plenty of avenues to unleash the likes of Israel Folau and Sefanaia Naivalu.

But the Wallabies forwards need to step up, plain and simple.

They've been outmuscled consistently by the All Blacks pack for the past decade. Often, it's been embarrassing as black jerseys have stormed their way through gold defence, or thumped them into the turf when it's their turn to tackle.

Australia's starting backline has the potential to score loads of points, if they get front-foot ball.

Wallabies star Kurtley Beale will have plenty of work to do in defence against New Zealand. Picture: Stuart Walmsley/Rugby AU Media
Wallabies star Kurtley Beale will have plenty of work to do in defence against New Zealand. Picture: Stuart Walmsley/Rugby AU Media

The Kiwis have too often put pressure on the forward carriers, then the ruck, then the playmakers, for Australia to capitalise on any decent possession.

The physicality problem has been ongoing and yet there has been no fix.

It's why Wallabies coach Michael Cheika singled out lock Rob Simmons this week, urging him to be more aggressive, while confidently pushing the defensive capabilities of Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale, who will have Ardie Savea, Sonny Bill Williams and Kieran Read running their channel all day.

The gap between the sides is getting wider.

For the first time since 1923, Australia lost the first two Bledisloe Cup matches by 25 points or more; 38-13 in Sydney on August 18, and 40-12 the following week in Auckland.

But the Wallabies somehow found renewed passion to come from 31-7 down to defeat Argentina in their last Test.

That has to be a seminal moment in this group's journey to the World Cup.

Whatever they found in that second half in Salta must be taken through the 80 minutes in Tokyo.

Attack fearlessly, exploit every Kiwi defensive fragility, and tackle like the fate of Australian rugby depends on it.

If so, Australia can give the world reason to believe that somehow, some day, New Zealand may not be the No.1 team in the world.

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