Rugby Championship preview: All Blacks’ engine room to lay foundation for Eden Park triumph over the Wallabies in Bledisloe II

Dylan Coetzee
Rugby Championship preview: All Blacks' Richie Mo'unga v Wallabies' Bernard Foley.

The final round of the Rugby Championship has arrived with a race to the title starting with the second Bledisloe Test at Eden Park.

The dust has barely settled from the All Blacks’ controversial win in Bledisloe I in Melbourne. It is all set for another thrilling clash to close out the most intriguing championship since its inauguration in 2012.

New Zealand is the top-placed side, only ahead of the Springboks on points difference with one game to play.

Sam Whitelock leads the All Blacks in Sam Cane’s absence after the skipper was ruled out with a concussion. That opens the door for an exciting back-row consisting of Ardie Savea, Dalton Papali’i and Akira Ioane, which could have a massive impact on the clash.

The Wallabies have been forced into a back-row shuffle of their own with Rob Leota out with a ruptured Achilles tendon. The tireless Harry Wilson starts at number eight, with Rob Valetini shifting to the flank alongside Pete Samu in a lethal-looking loose trio.

The Test takes place at the All Blacks’ spiritual home Eden Park, adding to the spectacle awaiting rugby fans. Everything points to a vintage Bledisloe Cup clash as New Zealand push for the Rugby Championship title and Australia look for revenge.

Last time they met

Last week’s Bledisloe Test was met with controversy as referee Mathieu Raynal blew up Bernard Foley for time-wasting in the final minute, only for the All Blacks to steal the game, winning 39-37. The All Blacks were out of the blocks quickly with a fourth-minute Samisoni Taukei’aho try converted by Richie Mo’unga. The New Zealand fly-half traded penalties with Foley before Rob Valetini crashed over in the 26th minute for a converted try. Once again, it was the All Blacks with a quick start after the break as Taukei’aho bagged his brace as Mo’unga obliged with the conversion before scoring a try of his own in the 52nd minute, closely followed by Will Jordan scoring a scintillating try three minutes later.

It was all Australia after that as they scored three converted tries through an Andrew Kellaway brace and a Pete Samu five-pointer bringing the game close. Mo’unga added a penalty before scrum-half Nic White nailed a long-range penalty of his own to give the Wallabies the lead with minutes to play. Jordie Barrett scored the winning try off the back of the controversial decision to win the game for New Zealand. Bledisloe I was a classic in every sense of the word.

What they said

All Blacks full-back Beauden Barrett believes the week of preparation was a chance for his side to expel the complacency that almost cost the win in Bledisloe I.

“It’s an opportunity for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and our preparation after getting too complacent after getting a lead like we had,” he said.

“There are a few boys that are a bit scratchy at the moment, which is great. That’s where you want to be on a Monday, not feeling comfortable at all, and plenty of edge in camp.”

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie fired back at Rieko Ioane, who took issue with the Australians advancing in a boomerang shape whilst the All Blacks performed the haka.

“I know Rieko Ioane had a lot to say to our boys after the final try, mouthing off at Folau Fainga’a about disrespecting the haka,” he told reporters.

“Which is a bit odd because as New Zealanders would know, when a team does a haka you respond with a haka; we don’t have the luxury of responding with a haka.”

Players to watch

Beauden Barrett returns to the starting XV at full-back, where he has more time and space to pick holes in the defensive line. The playmaker showed how lethal he could be at 15 in his cameo last week as he put Will Jordan through for a try with a dink over the defensive line. Barrett operating in tandem with Richie Mo’unga is a sight to behold. Expect the pair to keep the Wallabies honest on Saturday.

Blues skipper Dalton Papali’i has been unlucky not to have played more in black this year after a stellar Super Rugby Pacific campaign where he showed his growth as a player and a leader. Tireless in his efforts, strong with ball in hand and a ferocious defender, it is Papali’i who will provide the loose trio with perfect balance this weekend in potentially wet conditions.

The All Blacks boast a superior second-row pairing, particularly with the ban of Wallaby Darcy Swain, led by stand-in captain Sam Whitelock and his partner Brodie Retallick. If the pair can boss the lineout and execute their fundamentals in the engine room, the All Blacks could have the platform to attack and exploit the Wallabies.

The Wallabies’ robust wing Marika Koroibete was kept quiet last week aside from one monstrous hit on Caleb Clarke. However, the Fijian-born star cannot be expected to stay quiet for too long and will look to make an impact on this Bledisloe Test. The flyer is blessed with extreme pace and agility, given his massive frame, and is always a try threat. Expect the same on Saturday.

Number eight Harry Wilson returns and will provide balance to the Wallabies trio with an outrageous work ethic on both sides of the ball. The Reds star is a player who will inevitably empty the tank. Expect nothing different from Wilson on Saturday, who makes for an intriguing matchup against the All Blacks’ Ardie Savea.

Rob Valetini has easily been one of the Wallabies’ standouts in this year’s Rugby Championship mainly because of his ball carrying and, in particular, the metres he makes post-contact. This was on show in Melbourne, where he crashed over for an important try in the context of that game. On the flank this week, Valetini will benefit from a shared workload with Wilson.

Main head-to-head

Fly-halves play a significant role in the game, from playmaking to game management to basic kicking, and as Bernard Foley found out last week, every play counts for a 10 in rugby union.

It is no secret that Richie Mo’unga’s return to the starting line-up has revived the All Blacks form. The Crusader has the supreme ability to read the state of the game and play accordingly, managing key moments compared to the all-out attacking mindset of his counterpart, Beauden Barrett. However, Mo’unga can turn on his attacking flair with the flick of a switch making him tremendously dangerous. The 28-year-old has the unique opportunity in this Test to use the Barrett brothers in and around him to share attacking and kicking loads freeing up the pivot to manage the game and make clear decisions. Mo’unga, with his support around him, may well be the difference at Eden Park this weekend.

Unlike the media attention this week suggests, Foley had an excellent game for the Wallabies until the time-wasting call. The veteran kicked well out of hand, carried the ball strongly to the line and even played Andrew Kellaway in for a crucial try after half-time. For the most part, the fly-half was decisive and clear-cut in his decision-making. However, conquering the All Blacks at their hallowed Eden Park requires absolute precision from critical decision-makers, and the ‘Iceman’ will need to command the game if his side is to claim the win.


The Wallabies played tremendous rugby last week and deserved the win, but the All Blacks at Eden Park is a massive challenge particularly as they push for the Rugby Championship title. New Zealand has the advantage in the second-row; if they can use that to exploit the Wallabies, it could spell trouble for the Australians. That being said, Rennie’s men will come out of the blocks with a point to prove in a guaranteed thriller. All Blacks to win by 10 with no bonus point.

Previous results

2022: New Zealand won 39-37 in Melbourne
2021: New Zealand won 38-21 in Perth
2021: New Zealand won 57-22 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: Drawn 16-16 in Wellington
2019: New Zealand won 36-0 in Auckland

The teams

New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Jordie Barrett, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Hoskins Sotutu, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 23 Sevu Reece

Australia: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Pete Samu, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Dave Porecki, 1 James Slipper (c)
Reserves: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Nic White, 22 Reece Hodge, 23 Jordan Petaia

Date: Saturday, September 24
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:05 local (8:05 BST, 7:05 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

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