Adam Ashley-Cooper ... the only survivor in the Wallabies back line from their 22-0 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park. Photo: Getty Images
ONE way or another, rugby history is going to be made tonight. The moveable feast of the Wallabies faces an unstoppable All Blacks force at Suncorp Stadium.
The All Blacks are gunning for a 17th consecutive Test win and their 100th Test victory (based on NZRU statistics) against the Wallabies. They have won 38 of their past 41 Tests.
When the All Blacks smashed the Wallabies at Eden Park 22-0, losing coach Robbie Deans reckoned his side was given a "masterclass" in modern, winning rugby. Adam Ashley-Cooper, the only survivor in the Wallabies back line from that lesson, reckons this is the best team he has ever played against.
While the All Blacks have been enjoying a dream run, the Wallabies have been buffeted by injuries, with 20 or so potential starters out. There has also been intense criticism about their lack of flair, and some toxic dissension from Quade Cooper.
The Wallabies will have passionate support tonight. Suncorp Stadium has become something of a fortress for the Wallabies, with 17 wins and three losses at the venue. It was where last year, weeks before the World Cup, on the strength of several storming runs by Radike Samo, the Wallabies defeated the All Blacks 25-20.
That was the last defeat suffered by the All Blacks. Their run of 16 consecutive wins culminated in a brilliant triumph against South Africa in Soweto two week ago.
Beforehand Springboks captain Jean de Villiers said of the All Blacks: "It scares the living daylights out of me, thinking how far they can go … They may eventually set the record at 23 Tests or something like that."
After the win, Richie McCaw said it was the best All Blacks side he had played in.
Before the Wallabies played their last Test, against the Pumas at Rosario, I suggested that a victory (which was achieved in a gutsy manner) would rank as one of the best in their history. A victory tonight would rank with the exhilarating NSW win over the 1937 Springboks at the SCG, which Evan Whitton described as "the greatest day in Australian rugby''.
A telling statistic of the modern All Blacks is that they have scored a try in their past 100 or so Tests. No other major rugby nation has come close to this record. New Zealand also almost invariably get into double figures on the scoreboard. The Wallabies have defeated the All Blacks only six times when the New Zealanders have scored 20 points or more.
In Soweto, South Africa received nine penalties in a row before the All Blacks won a penalty in the 55th minute. Despite this, the Springboks were swept away by an avalanche of points and tries in the second half. It makes some sense, therefore, that Deans has decided on a game plan tonight to attack the All Blacks and take the game to them: "At some point, to do well against them, you've got to take the initiative."
This is undoubtedly true, but the tactic has constant dangers as well as its occasional rewards. The Pumas played a tight, spoiling game in Wellington but the All Blacks scrambled to an unconvincing victory. In the return match at La Plata, the Pumas played expansively, as Deans wants the Wallabies to do tonight. They were thrashed. Attacking the All Blacks gives teams the best chance of defeating them but creates counter-attacking chances for them to exploit.
Scott Higginbotham argues "every side is beatable". Quite right. When the Wallabies defeated the All Blacks in 2010 it was their first victory over the old foes in 846 days. All sequences of victories end sooner or later.