Wallabies face tough assignment to storm fortress Eden Park and lay claim to Bledisloe Cup

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

The All Blacks’ overwhelming dominance over the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup is beginning to reach America’s Cup proportions. The New York Yacht Club successfully defended the Auld Mug 26 times over a 132 year period until Australia II ended its reign in 1983. No one is suggesting the All Blacks will hold the Bledisloe for 132 years, but they are closing in on the same number of successful defences.

The All Blacks have held won the series for 18 years in a row, almost an entire generation, and twice as long as Queensland’s record nine-year winning streak from 2006 to 2013 in the State of Origin rugby league series. There are no signs of their ascendancy ending anytime soon and all indications are the Kiwis will stretch their streak to 19 in a row in this year’s series, which starts at the Wallabies’ hoodoo ground, Eden Park, on Saturday.

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The Wallabies have not beaten the All Blacks there since 1986. Now they will face them twice at the Auckland venue in the space of seven days. The odds of the Wallabies beating the All Blacks in back-to-back Tests at Eden Park would be astronomical, but, of course, they do not need to defeat the Kiwis twice in Auckland to regain the Bledisloe Cup.

If the Wallabies can upset the All Backs just once there, the deciding third Test will be played in Perth where Australia thrashed New Zealand 47-26 in 2019. That’s something to cling onto.

But what are the chances of the Wallabies beating the All Blacks at Eden Park even once? On the evidence so far this year, very slim. In the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition, the five New Zealand sides finished in the top half of the table, while the five Australian teams occupied the bottom half. Between them, the Australian teams managed to win just two of 25 regular season games.

While Test results do not necessarily correlate with Super Rugby outcomes, they are usually pretty closely aligned. The Wallabies have made the task harder for themselves by standing down three players – Marika Koroibete, Isi Naisarani and Pone Fa’amausili – after a late-night drinking session. While Rugby Australia is trying to build a team culture, they may have bitten off their nose to spite their face.

Nevertheless, the Wallabies will enter this year’s Bledisloe with a degree of confidence after their 2-1 series victory over France, but they cannot afford to be self-delusional about that victory. Australia just managed to squeak past a French B, possibly C team, on home soil. Now they are up against a full-strength All Blacks at the Kiwis’ most intimidating stadium, a significant step-up.

Only a supreme optimist would think the Wallabies could play the way they did against France and hope to beat the All Blacks, especially at Eden Park. They will need something extra in their game.

Australia II took Dennis Conner and Liberty by surprise with their secret weapon, the winged keel, but Dave Rennie does not appear to be the kind of coach to re-invent the wheel. Instead, the Wallabies are likely to try to build on what they did well against France and address the weaknesses in their game. Jordan Petaia will make his first international appearance this year on the wing, otherwise it is much the same group of players who competed against France.

The difference in depth between the Wallabies and the All Blacks can be measured by the fact the three Barrett brothers – Beauden, Jordie and Scott – sitting on the Kiwis’ reserves’ bench would walk into Australia’s run on side.

The Wallabies dominated France in the set-pieces, but the challenge will be much greater against the All Blacks. Australia will field determined, hard-working second-rowers, Darcy Swain and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, but will they be a match for world class All Blacks locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock?

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The only Australian tight-five forward who could make a similar impact to Retallick is tight-head prop Taniela Tupou. Tupou was more effective coming off the bench against France than starting and he has been chosen among the reserves. How Tupou’s game-time is managed will be important to the Wallabies’ chances.

The Wallabies backs must improve markedly. Against France, they were disjointed and lacked communication. If the Australian backs make as many fundamental errors as they did against France, the All Blacks will cut them to pieces on counter-attack. They have to play direct and keep it simple. Defending will be key. The Wallabies will not out-run, out-pass or out-kick the All Blacks, but they can out-tackle them if their attitude is right.

In the absence of a winged keel, the Wallabies will rely on the fighting spirit they showed against France, coming from behind in the first and third Tests to clinch the series. If the Wallabies show the same never-say-die attitude and manage to stay in the game, they will give themselves a chance to achieve an improbable victory.

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