All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rates the 2018 Wallabies more dangerous than last year’s model and isn’t backing away from branding them favourites for their opening clash.
The defending Rugby Championship winners and long-time Bledisloe Cup holders arrived in Sydney on Sunday evening, six days before their match at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.
Hansen continued his complimentary assessment of the Wallabies, rating them “a really good side” after their three-test home series loss to Six Nations champions Ireland.
“They won that first one and the second two games they didn’t get much luck did they, so it could have gone either way that series,” Hansen said.
“I thought they got a lot of intensity, they played with a lot of skill.”
He felt the Wallabies were benefiting from the work of skills coach Michael Byrne, who formerly held a similar position with New Zealand rugby.
“The work Mick has been doing with them, their running lines are really good, their passes have got a lot better, so it’s going to make them even more dangerous,” Hansen said.
While New Zealand blew Australia away in the first half of last year’s Bledisloe opener, Hansen suggested the Wallabies would benefit from having a trial just over two weeks out from Saturday’s game.
The All Blacks have held the Bledisloe since 2003, but Hansen last week declared Australia were worthy of favouritism this year.
He reiterated that opinion on Sunday, based on Australia winning their most recent contest, the 2017 dead rubber.
“They won the last one, they have to be (favourites) don’t they?” Hansen said.
He believes Reece Hodge is likely to wear the Wallabies No.13 jersey next weekend, but turned cagey when asked if that was a channel his team could exploit, given the Rebels utility hasn’t started a test in that position.
“I can’t go telling you that,” Cheik (Wallabies coach Michael Cheika) will fix it up,’ Hansen quipped.
“No, I think he (Hodge) is a good footballer.”