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The Bledisloe Cup kicks off on Saturday night with the Wallabies facing what is the toughest schedule in the series’ recent history given it begins with back-to-back games at Eden Park.
Having not held the trophy since 2002, the Wallabies are at huge odds to pull off an upset at a venue where they haven’t won since 1986.
But anything can happen in sport, right?
Read on as we isolate five key things to watch for in Bledisloe I.
Wallabies can’t be badly beaten out of the blocks
If the Wallabies are to be any chance of ending their 35-year dry spell at Eden Park, then they simply must start well. Playing the All Blacks is hard enough, but it’s even harder when you’re playing from behind. Against France, Australia conceded first-half leads of 0-15, 3-15 and 0-10. Admittedly they clawed their way back to win the first and third Tests, but a repeat of any of those starts and an already tough challenge becomes nigh-on impossible.
Last year at Eden Park, Australia trailed 10-7 at halftime and then conceded three tries in 14 minutes after the break to gift the All Blacks an ascendancy they wouldn’t relinquish. Similar focus in the opening stages of the second half will be required if the Wallabies are to hang in the contest and keep it alive until the final quarter.
So many Australian teams have been able to hang with the All Blacks for a period and that was the case in all but the Sydney Test for the Wallabies last year; while hopes of victory might be as long as these lockdown days, many Australian fans would be happy just to see the game in the balance with 10 minutes to play.
The All Blacks have their heartbeat back
New Zealand Rugby learned quite a bit about itself and the game when things ground to a halt last year, and it did supremely well to get Super Rugby Aotearoa up and running, so too the Tri Nations which was a joint effort with Rugby Australia, the Argentina Rugby Union and SANZAAR, as a result.
It also learned a thing or two about Ian Foster’s coaching, just what this latest World Cup cycle of the All Blacks might look like – and how important Brodie Retallick is to the New Zealand forward pack.
Brodie retallick is back to spearhead the All Blacks pack after missing last year’s series while on sabbatical Joe Allison/Getty Images
The veteran lock’s worth was already well known – he is a World Rugby Player of the Year after all – but perhaps just how big a part he plays in this All Blacks team was exemplified last year when both Australia and Argentina were able to halt the All Blacks’ momentum through the middle of the paddock. Oh, how the ABs could have used a game-changing run in their shock defeat to the Pumas at Bankwest Stadium.
Retallick started the All Blacks’ first Test against Fiji, returning 10 runs for 27 metres and a typically robust game-high 14 tackles. Add to that his work at the breakdown and lineout jumping, and you get a sense of Retallick’s importance to this All Blacks team. His inclusion cannot be understated.
Lolesio’s second Bledisloe will need to be better than his first
It was always going to be a tough ask to make your Test debut in a Bledisloe Cup game, with the series on the line, as part of a new-look backline with an equally inexperienced centre pairing outside you. And so it proved in Bledisloe III last year when Noah Lolesio was thrown in at the deep end, and learned just how tough Test rugby can be.
But with a full Super Rugby season under his belt this year, and three solid Tests against France, the Brumbies playmaker is a different player to the one that looked out of his depth at ANZ Stadium last year. And he has rightly been entrusted with steering the Wallabies ship once again