Wallabies assistant coach Mick Byrne insists there won’t be any selection surprises when Australia name their team on Thursday to tackle the All Blacks.
Whatever team is picked, however, will be in far better physical shape than this time last year, according to the former All Blacks skills coach.
Consistency: Wallabies skills coach Mick Byrne says don’t expect the unexpected.
With a settled squad in terms of injury concerns and personnel, coach Michael Cheika isn’t expected to send the All Blacks into panic mode when he unveils his match-day 23 for the Bledisloe opener on Saturday evening.
“Being the first Bledisloe it will be pretty consistent with what you’ve seen,” Byrne said. “Making sure that all our players are firstly really comfortable and confident in what they need to do and get it done. I don’t think you’ll be seeing too many surprises or any surprises, if any.”
In the backs, Reece Hodge is expected to fill the void at No.13 left by Samu Kerevi, while Dane Haylett-Petty and Marika Koroibete are likely to retain their spots on the wing.
Byrne isn’t buying into discussion that the All Blacks will target Hodge in a position in which he doesn't have a lot of experience.
“I wouldn’t expect that they’ll go off on a tangent and attack something,” Byrne said. “They’ll just get on and play the game.”
Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale will be the side’s playmakers, with Israel Folau to remain at fullback despite calls for him to shift to outside-centre.
Up front, the hooker battle is an interesting one. Tatafu Polota-Nau has returned from a stint in the UK and is likely to be handed the No.2 jersey.
“Taf’s got experience and he’s come back in great shape,” Byrne said. “He’s trained really well and he’s certainly put his hand up to be considered.”
Whether Cheika picks Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Australia’s starting hooker in the June series, or Tolu Latu, a shining light off the bench in the Sydney fixture, is unclear and perhaps a selection that will be based more on instinct than anything else.
After two years of average Bledisloe performances in Sydney, Byrne said the squad was in far superior condition than previous outings.
“We’re in better physical shape than we were this time last year.” Byrne said. “I know last year there was a lot made of the conditioning we had to do in our camp. It was great to go into our camp this year and be really focused on the way we want to play the game.”
Asked whether the Wallabies’ skills were on par with that of the All Blacks, Byrne said: “I think they are. On the training track we’ve shown that, now we just have to build the confidence and belief within themselves to come out and present that during the game.”
As for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s comment that the Wallabies would start Saturday’s blockbuster as favourites, Byrne could only laugh at his former colleague’s perspective.
“Steve’s always had a great sense of humour and I really appreciate his humour,” Byrne said. “It’s great.”
Foley added: “I don’t know if you can buy into too much of that. We don’t get to bet on games so it doesn’t matter who is favourite come Saturday night.”
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