A Nichey Niche Convo: International Rugby #1

Aaron Cruden - The Doc's second favourite All Black.

Aaron Cruden - The Doc's second favourite All Black.

Diggity Doc: El Wildcardo, I hear the All Blacks are set to embark on a new era without a bunch of blokes who we have grown up watching in that black jersey. I'm struggling with that new era concept though, even the idea that this All Blacks team will be weaker without all that experience. How do you view this current All Blacks crew in that regard?

Wildcard: Well Doc, I thoroughly expect them to fustigate Wales if that's what you mean. But I'm excited to see this team play, there normally aren't the chances for this many inexperienced players and while the typically impressive leadership group should ease the transition, this team naming still had me pretty interested. It's a great time to be an All Black I reckon, just think of the guys in there now that ten years ago would have been doomed to Byron Kelleher or Nick Evans type careers - professional backups that'd start for any other country. It's cool, this is a rare period of potential vulnerability. No Richie no bloody problem, mate. Although... the idea that Kieran Read is a possibility to lead the haka, mate... I know he has those serial killer eyes but seriously...

DD: Well Read is from Papakura, which is perhaps Auckland's heartiest area ... and yes Read is not from Canterbury. If any pakeha bloke was to lead the haka, it has to be Read but there's the likes of Aaron Cruden and Aaron Smith there as well. I like Shag's way of thinking in terms of this group starting their own legacy and what not, which has me eager to not mention the retired blokes no more. This is a heck of a team that Shag has named and what stands out to me is the impact that will come off the bench, the depth. We know what Beauden Barrett does but there's guys like Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipolotu and Ardie Savea who will add their own spice when they come on around the 50 minute mark and beyond. What has you giddy?

WC: Giddy? Sonny Bill joining the Blues and... no I'm joking. I'm loving the look of that forward pack, as well as what is surely the most devastating wing duo in world rugby. Dude, there's no hiding out there. But it's funny how many guys have gone and how strong this team still looks - particularly that back row, man. Kaino/Cane/Read and that's that. But look, I'm sure the rugby loving public will find something to complain about and given the options id say ya boy Cruden might be under some pressure. Which... I kinda think he'll deal with fine, but tell me what to watch for in the 10 jersey, I know it won't be goalkicking. Oh, and if I'm not mistaken then Kieran Read is a Rosehill College old boy.

DD: We all love the kiwi style of rugby and there'll be quick throw-ins all over the show but the basic principle of playing territory. Cruden's gotta find open pastures or at least put Wales' back three under pressure which will hand the footy back to the AB's around halfway. Key with that could be not kicking the footy out and forcing Wales to buy-in to some running rugby. Cruden himself is a runner, but I wouldn't say he's a better runner than Barrett or Sopoaga. What always catches the eye with Cruden is his involvement with and without the footy - he's easily the most rugged option. Interesting you bring up the kiwi loosies because guys like Toby Faletau and Sam Warburton aren't mugs, which must be part of Wales' hopes as they've gotta keep it tight and maintain parity in the forwards. Wales won't hang with the AB's in a battle of free-flowing footy right?

WC: Nobody hangs with the ABs in the free-flow, certainly not at Eden Park where we haven't lost since the 80's and not the Welsh who, despite a pretty hearty rivalry, haven't beaten NZ since 1953 - which is also the year Hillary topped Everest, hooray. Every now and then Australia can stick with it, but bugger them for now. Hey, I'm a big fan of Sam Warburton so I was pretty stoked to see him back fit enough to kit up in what looks like an interesting Welsh side, a bit of new blood and a bit of old - highlighted by Alun Wyn Jones about to play his 100th test. Risky stuff from Warren Gatland, though let's be honest he's nothing to lose. Yeah, I'd imagine Wales are gonna want to target set pieces and try get the game into a grind, play the old territory game and then if there's one area they might wanna target, it's probably the new centre pairing of Crotty & Fekitoa - Jonathan Davies is no battler, Doc. I actually read a few articles talking up Wales' chance of an upset win but I reckon the British media might be underestimating the All Blacks' depth more than a little bit there.

DD: Maybe us kiwis tend to think that all eyes are on Super Rugby? We expect the Welsh folk and general European rugby folk to know that this Seta Tamanivalu dude is a beast, or that yeah Aaron Smith is the best halfback in the world but we've got a single-file line of halfbacks waiting for their run. I say that because I couldn't really give a rats backside about Welsh rugby, so I've got no real idea if they have the talent simmering under the radar to push this AB's team. Guys like Faletau, Warburton, Wyn Jones, Davies, Roberts etc haven't exactly helped Wales beat the AB's before so it more depends on the guys around them. Crucial to AB's success is that they can damn sure run you off the park but if you wanna play a game in the trenches, they'll meet you there and I'm staying away from trenches if the likes of Kaino, Rettalick and Coles are there. We sleep on the AB's set-piece and their ability to grind out footy games.

WC: Oh mate, I swear one of the things I read from some ex-Welsh dude argued that this series was gonna decide the best halfback in the world between Aaron Smith and Rhys Webb... which is cute because Aaron Smith is the best and there's no arguing it. I guess the fact is that the All Blacks, providing they all turn up, outmatch the Welsh (and almost every other team in world rugby) in every aspect - we don't lose when we play at 100%. Being the first game of the international season, it's a likely chance we aren't so well-oiled but then there are only six changes to the XV that won the World Cup final whereas Wales have made five from their final Six Nations match. Shouldn't be much of a factor. Damn, the All Blacks are kinda boring, hey, haha? Ooh but here's one for ya: Sitting on the bench in red... a certain Gareth Anscombe.

DD: Mate, you know how much I love Tawera Kerr-Barlow and I'm not even the slightest bit concerned that it's TJ Perenara on the bench. Does it feel like first-fives like Anscombe and Simon Hickey (who were both allowed to leave Auckland) don't quite fit the mould of our other first-fives? Anscombe also does some fullback stuff which is even worse for Wales because he's that European kick-orientated player instead of an exciting player with x-factor. I always wish these guys the best and hopefully we see him put his best foot forward on what once was his home ground. 

Hold on ... everyone says the Blues need a quality first-five and a promising young first-five in Hickey was allowed to leave? Weird.

Mate, to be honest besides seeing our AB's back in action, this series is fairly boring to look at. Taking a geeze across the ditch though is vastly different with two evenly matched teams, each in very interesting positions post-World Cup. How do you think the first Test between Australia and Wales in Brisbane might pan out?

WC: To be honest if you built a team of players allowed to leave the Blues then you'd probably be naming a team that'd win Super Rugby. I was a little less high on Hickey but it was definitely odd that they let him go when the team was in a position of rebuilding - surely you stick with the guys with potential? But then we don't know the full circumstances as always. Ihaia West is hardly Carlos Spencer to my mind either (btw, Cruden is 11 points away from tying Spencer for fifth most points in the black jersey). I'm enjoying that the Blues aren't getting ripped as much now as they had been people are finally realising that Tana and company are working on a multi-year thing.

Ah, yes. And the Aussie-England test. Now there's one to get fired up about, Eddie Jones against the Wallabies. Man, he's talked a good game so far but I do reckon that away from home the English have their work cut out there. Because of their Super Rugby form, Australia are underrated a bit but you can comfortably pick fifteen quality lads out of that pool. Gimme Australia by... say, 10 points.

DD: So your anti-England vibes haven't been eased by their resurgent form under Jones? It's going to be interesting to see how much we can really read into Super Rugby form and whether that is a fair gauge of how an international team may perform. Super Rugby suggests that the AB's will run rampant and Australia could struggle - we won't the answer to that until some Bledisloe/Rugby Championship footy rolls around. I've got Aussie and England being fairly even so who knows, the storylines there are just waaay funkier.

WC: Haha, mate, I'm not anti-England at all! They've done well under Uncle Eddie so far and are definitely a better team now than at the World Cup but I reckon that WC did show a clear line in the sand between the three big southern hemisphere nations and the rest. But 100% that Aus-Eng game is the one that'll tell us how accurate I am on that - the Wales-NZ one, if the All Blacks don't win that it'll be seen as an outlier and not a trend. There are also games between South Africa and Ireland as well as Argentina and Italy on the weekend, so tell me Doc, how's the scorecard gonna read on Monday morning? - North vs South... 3-1 South? A 2-2 split maybe? I'm feeling something of a southern hemisphere whitewash, to be honest, though I doubt any of those games will have more than a couple tries difference in 'em.

DD: Well I've got no issues in being anti-England haha (I love the Motherland really). There's something about their rugby/sporting set up that just grinds the gears right? So imagine how I feel now that they have some Aussie joker at their helm AND they think they're pretty good. Well AB's over Wales is 1-0 to the South, Australia vs England will be the closest of the lot but I still like Australia, especially after reading a yarn about this bloke Rory Arnold who has gone from park footy at a club that can field a team some years and other years it can not to now representing his nation. That's the funk I like from countries that aren't so hectic about rugby ya know?

South Africa should get up over Ireland although I'm not overly excited by South African sport in general right now as they still have that racial thing going on. It may not have any relation to their rugby team but it's all a bit meh right now over there and they are another example of the Super Rugby form vs international form query as well. I'm taking them over Ireland though and Argentina are my favourite rugby team in the whole wide world so I'm backing them every day of the week. 4-0 to the Southerners mate.

WC: I love Argentinian rugby, certainly a lot more than their football team (although they were good value the other day even without that little Messi fella). Plus 97% of their team is playing together for the Jaguares anyway so they ought to have a foot up on that one. Like, literally. 27 of their 28 man squad is either playing for the Jaguares or affiliated with them and the other dude is that Cubelli bloke from the Brumbies. Which means a couple certified faves are out of the reckoning in Juan Fernandez Lobbe and Marcelo Bosch but such is the SANZAR life - the Pumas are catching on strong. Any other rugbified points to make, Doc? Has Liam Squire shaved that stringy possum off the back of his neck yet?

DD: As a mullet lover myself, I'm the wrong person to ask. I actually reckon Shag is all about individuality and personality so he's probably encouraging more growth in that mullet. C'mon mate he's based in the deep south, you know fashion is a decade late down there.

WC: I'm gonna refrain from saying something that might offend our fine Otago readers here, the Highlanders are amazing.

DD: Shout out to the deep south and I'll catch ya for an interesting Saturday night of international rugby chief