The eyes of World Rugby will be on ANZ Stadium in Sydney as another year of Bledisloe Cup rivalry between the Wallabies and All Blacks reaches boiling point.
And it’s a match where the All Blacks are determined to silence a hopeful Wallabies side desperate to beat their biggest rival.
The Wallabies face an almighty task if they wish to retake the Bledisloe Cup from the All Blacks. It’s been 15-years since the Wallabies held the trophy, and their wins over the All Blacks have been minimal in that time as well.
During that time, relations between the two sides have broken down. Now in 2017, and especially since the ‘SpyGate’ incident, several inside sources to both camps say that the relationship may never heal. In fact, things could be approaching an all time low.
Off Field Drama Hits All Blacks As Test Nears
It wouldn’t be a Test match week between these two sides without a bit of off-field banter. This time round has been no exception, and it reached fever pitch on Friday.
The now infamous ‘SpyGate’ case endured in court, where ultimately All Blacks security guard Adrian Gard was found not guilty of making up claims that he found the bugging device.
Leaked Facebook messages surrounding an off-field sex scandal for All Black halfback Aaron Smith were released a day earlier. The NZR has since reopened their investigation into the matter, but coach Steve Hansen was quick to shut down any talk during the team naming press conference that same day.
You wouldn’t think that rugby was the reason the All Blacks were in town after reading some of the local press coverage either. On Friday, Australian media sought to highlight what they refereed to as ‘flaws in the All Blacks’, and some outlets even went as far as labelling the side ‘All Cracks’.
But at the end of the day, there is a game of rugby to be played at ANZ Stadium. Not only that, it serves as the Wallabies best chance of beating the All Blacks in 2017.
Apart from the debut of Curtis Rona on the left wing, Michael Cheika has named the best Wallabies squad possible for the encounter.
Kurtley Beale’s return to the side for the first time since the 2015 Rugby World Cup final will put a spark into the Wallabies. On top of that, the Wallabies have an aggressive forward pack capable out matching the strength of the All Blacks, and a more expansive style of captain in the form of Michael Hooper.
Israel Folau, Henry Speight, Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale, Curtis Rona, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Scott Sio, Stephen Moore, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper, Sean McMahon.
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Reece Hodge, Tevita Kuridrani.
For the All Blacks, 22-year old Damian McKenzie gets his first real opportunity to shine in the black jersey. Usual fullback Ben Smith moves to the wing, and the decision to rest Israel Dagg is believed to be due to how much rugby the veteran has played in recent months.
Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams pair up in the midfield, while in the forwards it’s Liam Squire who gets the nod over the far more experienced Jerome Kaino.
All Blacks Squad:
Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Luke Romano, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.
Wallabies vs All Blacks: By The Numbers
The two sides have met 158 times in Test matches, with 109 wins to the All Blacks and 42 to the Wallabies. The sides have drawn seven times.
The largest ever crowd to a Bledisloe Cup test was at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, back in 2000 when 109,874 were in attendance. That game was also one of the most famous rugby matches in history, and it was eventually dubbed ‘the game of the century’. That night, the All Blacks were 39-35 winners thanks to a late Jonah Lomu try.
All Blacks first five Beauden Barrett currently holds the record for most points (43) for an active All Black against the Wallabies.
All Blacks Determined to Silence Wallabies Hope at ANZ Stadium
After their drawn series against the British and Irish Lions; the All Blacks are determined to get a convincing win over the Wallabies.
Captain Kieran Read promised an attacking brand of rugby, regardless of the conditions presented on the night.
The biggest challenge for the Wallabies will be matching the All Blacks physically and scoring enough tries to be in a reasonable position to win the match. Penalties won’t be enough, and a clear direction is needed from the get go, but the ability to adapt as the game goes on will be crucial for the Wallabies too.
Kick off is at 8.00pm AEST on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium.
“Main photo credit”