Wellington Points to Flow More Freely After Break – Saturday 24 August 2013
Five-eighth, fly-half, number 10 – whatever one calls the position there is no argument that it is the most important in rugby union and New Zealand is down to its fourth choice because of injuries to the top three men on its depth chart.
Dan Carter (calf), Aaron Cruden (knee) and Beauden Barrett (calf) are available to New Zealand coach Steve Hansen so the All Blacks boss has decided to hand a Test debut to Crusaders utility back Tom Taylor instead of selecting Highlanders five-eighth Colin Slade in the key spot.
Taylor, the 24-year-old son of 1987 Rugby World Cup winner Warwick Taylor, has a big reputation and he can play in a variety of positions, including five-eighth, inside centre and fullback. The issue for New Zealand is that Taylor has not played much at five-eighth lately. He played one warm-up match at fly half for the powerful Crusaders before starting seven games at inside centre and another three at fullback during the recent Super Rugby tournament.
Clearly bookmakers think that New Zealand’s selection of Taylor is a gamble. New Zealand humiliated Australia 47-29 in Sydney last weekend yet bookmakers have framed their handicap lines for the Wellington rematch at around 14 points. Australia would have been worth considering in receipt of a hefty start but Wallabies boss Ewen McKenzie has chosen to stick with 14 of the 15 men who started in Sydney and Australia’s only change is due to injury.
Australia really needs to put Quade Cooper at five-eighth and take the rough with the smooth. Cooper is capable of igniting a backline like no other Australia player, as he demonstrated when the Reds won the 2011 Super Rugby title under McKenzie. There are many reasons why New Zealand fans boo Cooper mercilessly. One is that Cooper was born in the land of the long white cloud. Another is that Cooper has a long-running feud with New Zealand’s favourite son, Richie McCaw. But the most unreported one is that New Zealanders recognise that Cooper is a confidence player who has the ability to destroy their beloved All Blacks on his day.
Cooper is likely to get on to the field early in the second half of the Rugby Championship game that doubles as the second Bledisloe Cup grudge match of the year. That is when Australia should be at its best and the reason to back the second half to be higher scoring than the first at odds of around 1.85 (available at Bet365). Also supporting that bet is the fact that New Zealand has picked Taylor because of his goal kicking. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the most accurate goal kicker in New Zealand so the expectation is that the All Blacks will not decline any kickable penalties, particularly in the first 20 minutes when Taylor will be looking to find his feet on the international stage.
Argentina and South Africa clash for the second weekend running, with the Pumas desperate to atone for their 13-73 in Johannesburg when the Springbooks registered the biggest winning margin in any Tri Nations/Rugby Championship game. South Africa had crossed for nine tries before allowing Argentina inside centre Felipe Contepomi to get over the line for a 79th-minute try that he converted on the siren.
The line for the Mendoza match is roughly the same as the one for the Wellington game. Since Argentina continues to miss the services of its skipper, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, and it has slumped to heavy home defeats in recent times, South Africa is the pick at the line. One can back South Africa giving up 13.5 points at odds of around 1.80.