All Blacks expecting 'cleaner' Wallabies

Michael Cheika. Photo: Getty Images
Michael Cheika. Photo: Getty Images
There's some hidden signals within the prevailing mood of the All Blacks that they expect to encounter a genuinely rather than superficially physical Wallabies team on Saturday – which hasn't always been the case in the last few years.

In fact, rarely has it been the case as the Wallabies seemed to convince themselves early in the Michael Cheika coaching reign that the All Blacks were vulnerable to a bit of petty niggle.

They formed that view in Sydney 2015, when in Cheika's first game in charge, the Wallabies tugged at jerseys, blocked running lines and generally looked to irritate. They successfully rattled, and beat, the All Blacks.

It worked then, but only then. Once the All Blacks realised what was coming at them, they built a plan to deal with it.

Even when the All Blacks strayed from that plan in Wellington 2016 and got caught up dishing out way too much cheap stuff themselves in retaliation, they still managed to comfortably win.

The only other victory enjoyed by the Wallabies in the Cheika era came the last time the two sides met in Brisbane last year.

And it came because not only did the Wallabies play the more creative and clinical rugby, they were the more physical and imposing.

They ditched the niggle. Didn't bother trying to get under the All Blacks' skin and instead focused on producing a solid set piece and impressive defensive performance.

The test in Brisbane last year was the first time in an age when the Wallabies actually produced a more physically imposing performance than the All Blacks.

The Wallabies had more grunt at the collisions and more presence in the exchanges that defined test football. They were focused on themselves and by doing that, they were a different team.

They took that same approach into the recent tests against Ireland and while they lost, the All Blacks were obviously impressed at the hard edge their old foe brought which is why there has been no verbal jousting this week and why coach Steve Hansen has the Wallabies pegged as favourites.

Ireland dominated the Six Nations this year and built their platform on the physical edge of their pack.

They are big, big men and play direct, confrontational football which Australia stood up to and at times, bettered.

The penny has finally dropped it would seem and the Wallabies get it now – that to beat the best sides, particularly the All Blacks, they have to have authenticity to their physicality.

So the All Blacks don't believe the petty, spiteful stuff they have been subjected to in the last few years will be on show this weekend and instead it will be a proper contest against a pack that is considerably more resilient than many of its predecessors of the last decade.

And driving that transformation is the new generation of locks being produced by Australia.

Adam Coleman has emerged in the last two years as a high calibre lock with credible horse power and presence. Izack Rodda has given the pack ballast and the Wallabies more ability to stay in the fight and veteran Rob Simmons has had a second wind in his career.

With those three at the core of the pack, the All Blacks have developed not only more respect but a sense of wariness.

"They have got a good balance," said All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock about the Wallabies' stocks in the second row.

"The guys who have come in have brought that work ethic and energy and they are bouncing off each other. You can see how hard they work they are big strong guys and they are prepared to work and that is what you want in your locks.

"You want them to have big engines and they all have big engines."

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