It feels like history is very much repeating itself. Australia’s barren run in the Bledisloe Cup has stretched for 19 years now and that pain is unlikely to go away this weekend.
New Zealand, like they have for the majority of the past two decades, dominated the opening encounter, emerging with a 33-25 victory, and will expect to complete the job at fortress Eden Park on Saturday.
We struggle to see anything other than a reasonably comfortable win for the hosts. While they are, to a degree, in a rebuilding phase and haven’t exactly inspired since the 2019 World Cup, they are still in a much better position than their opponents.
Although there are better signs, which are pointing to an Australian revival, they are some way behind their great rivals. There have been improvements in their age-grade sides and, as a result, those talented youngsters have started to impress at Super Rugby level, but there is still so much work to be done.
Dave Rennie may point to their impressive finish to the first Bledisloe Cup as an indicator that they are developing, but this was an All Black team that were very mediocre for the opening quarter and still held a 25-point buffer after 64 minutes.
Rennie has made changes to try and rectify those issues, especially at the lineout, but they just don’t quite have the quality to compete with the three-time world champions on a consistent basis at the moment.
They may well garner the odd result, as they did in 2019 and 2020, but New Zealand are operating at a higher level right now.
There is hope in the fact that this is nowhere near the best All Black side over the past decade, but it is still a 23-man squad stacked with talent.
What happened in Bledisloe one
It was an inauspicious start from both teams, with the All Blacks conceding a string of penalties and the Wallabies failing to take advantage by losing several lineouts and making a number of handling errors. However, once the match settled down, New Zealand took control and moved into a dominant 33-8 advantage following scores from Sevu Reece, Richie Mo’unga, David Havili and Damian McKenzie. Ian Foster’s men then took their foot off the pedal and allowed Australia to gain a semblance of respectively through late Tom Banks, who touched down twice, and Jordan Uelese tries.
What they said
New Zealand head coach Ian Foster believes that all the pressure is on Australia, with the Wallabies needing to win to keep their Bledisloe Cup hopes alive.
“I am pretty intrigued they are trying to pile pressure on us,” Foster told reporters. “It is a Bledisloe Cup series, they are 1-0 down, and I am pretty sure there is a bit of pressure on them too. We want to win it.
“We know that Australia will be disappointed with the result (last week) and will lift. It’s a do-or-die game for them.
“The Bledisloe Cup means a lot to us. It’s an historic trophy and it’s easy for people to take it for granted based on results in recent years but throughout history it has been a hard cup to win.”
Australia wing Andrew Kellaway disagrees and believes that the All Blacks may have lost a bit of their aura.
“Maybe the aura has worn off a little bit,” Kellaway said on the Big Sports Breakfast.
“To be honest, the pressure is pretty much on them. You don’t want to be the first All Blacks team to lose at Eden Park. There’s no real pressure on our end. Hopefully we roll out there and do a number (on them).”
Players to watch
The absence of Anton Lienert-Brown is a blow for the All Blacks and there will be pressure on Rieko Ioane to finally produce in the 13 shirt. As talented and as devastating Ioane is in broken field, he just doesn’t look a natural fit at centre. That was shown in 2020, with New Zealand struggling to find the same fluency with the 24-year-old in the midfield. Although they haven’t shelved that idea completely – Ian Foster has said he trusts Ioane to play both well – wing has been his preferred position at international level in 2021.
If the Blues player wants to change that perception then this weekend is a good place to start. In fact, it is a big weekend for both the Ioane brothers as Akira is another looking to nail down his place long-term. Considering the hype surrounding the flanker and the sheer talent he possesses, it is remarkable to think that this will be just his sixth cap. He has an opportunity now, though, and like we mentioned elsewhere, it could be a defining competition for the blindside.
He will be up against Australia’s own powerhouse, Rob Valetini, in the back-row. In a forward pack that really lacks a plethora of dynamic and powerful carriers in comparison to New Zealand, Valetini is crucial. The Brumbies man has moved from six to number eight, with Lachie Swinton coming into the XV, and he has a big task of getting the Wallabies over the gain line.
Valetini, and Australia, will also hope for a bit more ball to attack from off set-piece. While the scrum was solid, they had real issues at the lineout and, as a result, Matt Philip has been named in the starting line-up. The lock had an excellent 2020 and is renowned for his work in the air, while he will also add plenty in the loose, even if Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who started last weekend, is the more powerful unit. Philip’s presence should ease the pressure slightly on Brandon Paenga-Amosa, with the hooker enduring a pretty awful day with his throwing.
At the age of 32, Aaron Smith is still going strong and will look to once again win the battle against Australia’s lively half-back Tate McDermott. Smith’s sharp service and astute rugby brain simply opens up so many options for the All Blacks and allows the talented Richie Mo’unga the time and space to weave his magic.
He was impressive in the opening Bledisloe Cup Test and certainly had the better of McDermott, who is still inexperienced at this level. The Reds playmaker is a talent and is always a threat around the fringes but hasn’t quite found the control to dominate these big games. The 22-year-old went reasonably well last weekend and evidently did enough to earn another start ahead of excellent Nic White, but Dave Rennie will hope to see a better performance on Saturday.
At home and at fortress Eden Park, the All Blacks will be too strong, but there is reason for optimism in the Wallabies camp. We are not fans of Rieko Ioane at 13 while the pack just isn’t as imposing as it used to be, particularly with star second-row duo Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock both the wrong side of 30. That said, these are minor issues in what is still a team that will be too powerful for Australia. New Zealand by 18 points.
2021: New Zealand won 33-25 in Auckland
2020: Australia won 24-22 in Brisbane
2020: New Zealand won 43-5 in Sydney
2020: New Zealand won 27-7 in Auckland
2020: New Zealand and Australia drew 16-16 in Wellington
2019: New Zealand won 36-0 in Auckland
2019: Australia won 47-26 in Perth
2018: New Zealand won 37-20 in Yokohama
2018: New Zealand won 40-12 in Auckland
2018: New Zealand won 38-13 in Sydney
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Jordie Barrett
Australia: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Matt To’omua, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 20 Harry Wilson, 21 Nic White, 22 Len Ikitau, 23 Reece Hodge
Date: Saturday, August 14
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:05 local (08:05 BST, 07:05 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
What's next in the rugby calendar?
Mark Smith and Adam Kyriacou from the Planet Rugby Show look ahead to life after the Lions tour, as the Rugby Championship has kicked into gear this weekend.