Bledisloe II preview: All Blacks v Wallabies
Bledisloe II preview: All Blacks v Wallabies
What: New Zealand v Australia
When: Saturday, August 23 – 5:35pm (AEST)
Where: Eden Park
I can view it on: Fox Sports/Channel 10
What did they do last time?
A mixture of atrocious weather, pedantic refereeing and some less than clinical rugby resulted in a frustrating and disappointing 12-all stalemate in Bledisloe I in Sydney.
Things you need to know
Injuries to second-five Ma'a Nonu and blindside flanker Jerome Kaino has forced All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to make changes to his starting line-up. Ryan Crotty is handed his first All Blacks start in the 12 jersey, while Liam Messam comes in for Kaino, who is out for four-to-six weeks with an elbow problem. New dad Conrad Smith returns at centre after missing last week's Test for the birth of his son. Malakai Fekitoa, who played at centre instead of Smith last week, drops to the bench. The other newcomer in the reserves is prop Charlie Faumuina who missed last week through illness. The rest of the team gets to atone for their below-par effort at ANZ Stadium so that means Israel Dagg is still on the outer with Ben Smith preferred at fullback and Cory Jane, who will play his 50th Test, stays on the right wing.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has stuck with the same 23 that ended the All Blacks' chances of claiming the tier one record for most consecutive Test wins. McKenzie is confident Kurtley Beale remains the right choice at first-five against New Zealand so Bernard Foley spends another week on the bench. The tight five have been rewarded for their efforts in the rain but will have to lift to match the expected improvements from their All Blacks opposites. After failing to get across the line the Wallabies face the sizeable task of beating the All Blacks at Eden Park for the first time since 1986 if they are to have a hope of taking the Bledisloe Cup back across the Tasman.
Kurtley Beale retains his place at fly half. Photo by Matt King/Getty Images
Reason to watch
It's round two of captains Richie McCaw and Michael Hooper going hammer and tongs. Can the Australian scrum stand up for the second week in a row? Will respective fullbacks Israel Folau and Ben Smith be able to make an impact on the game this week? How will the new All Blacks midfield combination of Ryan Crotty and Conrad Smith stand up against Matt Toomua and Adam Ashley-Cooper? Can the Aussies break their Eden Park hoodoo?
Reason to turn away
Only if referee Romain Poite turns in a performance like Jaco Peyper did last week.
"Recent results would suggest Eden Park hasn't been a happy place for Australia and already this week we’ve seen that not many people are giving us a chance in Auckland. Sporting records are there to be broken and we’ll look forward to the opportunity of playing the All Blacks in their own backyard on Saturday night," – Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie.
"There's plenty of criticism that was warranted last week. We didn't play well. We've got to be honest about that. If we want to retain the Bledisloe Cup we've got to go up about 10 or 12 notches and get into it," – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
Can McKenzie's men break the Eden Park hoodoo? Photo: Getty Images
The Wallabies ended the All Blacks' winning streak at 17 Tests and extended their own unbeaten run to eight Tests but they still haven't beaten the world champions since 2011. Last weekend was as good a chance as they'll get and they know they blew it.
Yes the weather and the referee didn't help matters, but with 65 percent of the ball they should have done much better.
The Wallabies' tight five stood up well to their more vaunted opponents and Kurtley Beale generally steered his side around the park well. But danger man Folau was largely kept quiet and if the Wallabies want to end 28 years of misery in Auckland, where they lost 22-0 last time at Eden Park, then the fullback has to get his hands on the ball more.
Turning down shots at goal to go for tries is admirable, but winning Test matches – particularly ones against arch trans-Tasman rivals - should be the priority and it would be a surprise if Michael Hooper makes similar decisions this week.
The All Blacks are filthy with themselves for that performance at ANZ Stadium and Steve Hansen's side rarely play so badly twice in a row.
The All Blacks are likely to get a better outcome from referee Romain Poite at scrum-time too than they did from Jaco Peyper, who has since apologised to Hansen for his errors in awarding free-kicks against the New Zealand scrum and sin-binning prop Wyatt Crockett.
The All Blacks also know that a win at Eden Park – where they are unbeaten in 32 Tests - will see them secure the Bledisloe for a 12th straight year. Having blown the chance to set a record last week, the New Zealanders will be determined not to give a confident Aussie outfit a sniff on Saturday.
All Blacks by eight.
NZ - $1.08
Aust - $7.50