One of rugby union’s greatest rivalries returns this week as the All Blacks travel to Melbourne to take on the Wallabies at Marvel Stadium.
The 2022 Bledisloe Cup is played over the final two rounds of the Rugby Championship, which has seen unprecedented levels of competition, with New Zealand on 10 points and the remaining teams all on nine, meaning any side can take home the title.
Neither nation has found consistency this season, with Dave Rennie’s Wallabies failing to win back-to-back matches whilst slumping to their worst defeat to Argentina ever, which was followed by a disappointing loss to the Springboks last time out.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks have endured a poor campaign by their standards but are starting to find their feet after responding to their first defeat to Argentina in New Zealand with a resounding 53-3 win over Los Pumas in their most recent game.
The Wallabies have remarkably been without the Bledisloe Cup since 2002 and know it is going to be an uphill battle against an All Blacks outfit that seems to be finding some form after an onslaught of media pressure earlier in the Test season.
If Thursday’s hosts are to take one step towards ending that 20-year drought, the task is simple: claim a New Zealand scalp in Melbourne before the pair face off again at Eden Park in Auckland next weekend in what would be an epic spectacle.
Last time they met
The rivals last met in 2021 when the All Blacks claimed a 38-21 triumph in Perth, scoring six tries against a Wallabies side that was never in the game.
Jordie Barrett opened the scoring with a try at the end of the first quarter that was converted by his brother Beauden, who also added two penalties, before David Havili scored on the stroke of half-time.
The Wallabies responded first in the second period with a try from hooker Folau Fainga’a, converted by Noah Lolesio, before the All Blacks hit back with a try of their own through Will Jordan minutes later.
Havili crossed for his brace just after the 60-minute mark before Wallaby Nic White responded with a try five minutes later.
The All Blacks ran away with the game in the last quarter though, with Anton Lienert-Brown and George Bridge putting their name on the scoresheet before Tom Banks scored a consolation try for Australia, capping off a poor performance from the Australians.
What they said
Red-hot Wallabies wing Marika Koroibete believes physicality is key against the All Blacks, based on how the Springboks and Los Pumas claimed wins over the New Zealanders. The robust runner is looking to bring “brutality” to the first Bledisloe Test.
“It’s just more brutality,” Koroibete said.
“Just contest on the ruck. Everyone across the park needs to bring that physicality, dominate the tackle and test their ruck.
“Just bring aggression on Thursday. That’s what they don’t want. That’s what the South Africans and Argies (Argentina) did to them when they won. That’s what we need to bring.”
Meanwhile, in the All Blacks camp, wing Jordan has already noted the difference newly-appointed attack coach Joe Schmidt has made on the squad as he looks to impact the game even without the ball in hand.
“Over the three months or so it’s been a little bit tough getting the ball out wide and I’ve had some great chats with Joe Schmidt in particular in the last couple of week about how we can influence the game a bit more when the ball’s not coming our way,” said Jordan.
“It’s about having as much impact and influence off the ball as on it and then when you do get the opportunity with ball in hand … I’m getting pretty excited, under the roof so hopefully a bit of running footy.”
Players to watch
Rebels outside back Andrew Kelaway starts at full-back for the Wallabies this weekend in a different looking back three. The speedster is a strong runner and clever player but hasn’t had much game time in the 15 shirt. However, it does suggest that Rennie is looking to play a running game with the more naturally suited Reece Hodge on the bench. It will be interesting to see if Kellaway has the overall skillset to manage the game from the back.
Elsewhere, the ‘Iceman’ Bernard Foley returns to Test rugby after starting his last game in 2019 as he answered the call to help alleviate the fly-half crisis at the Wallabies. While the 33-year-old has been operating only at club level for an extended period, his vast experience will be extremely important as Rennie will expect the pivot to take control of the game away from opposite number Richie Mo’unga and the All Blacks .
The Iceman is back! 🧊
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) August 18, 2022
Rob Valletini has been a tireless worker for Australia the entire test season, consistently racking up strong carry numbers and tackle counts. The battle in the back-row will be instrumental in determining the winner of the clash, and Valetini will lead that charge for the Wallabies.
For New Zealand, Crusader skipper Scott Barrett continues his back and forth between the second row and blindside flank as he fills in for the injured Shannon Frizell, who performed brilliantly over the last couple of games. Nevertheless, Barrett’s physicality and ball-carrying ability align nicely with the role, and he will be expected to work hard to impose himself on the game.
The best All Black player of 2022, Ardie Savea, is missing this clash for the birth of his child, presenting a golden opportunity to Blues number eight Hoskins Sotutu. The 24-year-old was sublime during the Super Rugby Pacific but has not got an opportunity in black this season to the bemusement of many. However, the number eight is certainly one for the future and will hit the ground running by adding power, dynamism and intelligent play to the All Blacks back-row, which should provide good balance with Barrett and captain Sam Cane. It’s a big chance for Sotutu to force coach Ian Foster into a back-row reshuffle when Savea returns.
Rieko Ioane is easily the form outside center in the world currently, as he proved yet again for the All Blacks against Argentina, where he seemed to split the defensive line at ease and still had the presence of mind to make clever decisions with the ball in space. The star has everything, pace, power, footwork, vision and could well go on to be an All Blacks centurion. Every time Ioane touches the ball, there is a sense of anticipation. Expect the center to put in a blockbuster performance and be a try-threat on Thursday.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) September 3, 2022
Main head to head
This week’s head-to-head sees power meet prolific as Marika Koroibete other Will Jordan face off on the wing in Bledisloe I.
Wallaby Koroibete has turned everything he has touched into gold this year, both with and without the ball. The wing is incredibly powerful and physical with the pace to match and is an absolute nightmare to defend. In addition, the Fijian-born star is humble and hard-working, traits that shine through in his game and reward consistent effort. The supremely talented Koroibete will run out for his 50th test and will have been a focal point of New Zealand’s preparation.
Up against him, All Black’s speedster Jordan is an entirely different kind of wing loaded with sheer pace, the ability to beat a man and an eye for the try-line that simply cannot be taught. The young star has been prolific since bursting onto the scene, averaging a try a game for his 19-Test career. The 24-year-old will be itching to get over the line on Thursday.
Both teams have had shaky form this year, but the way the sides are trending certainly favors the All Blacks as they seem to have found a small period of stability. The Wallabies made eight changes, including the gamble of bringing in veteran Foley. With the All Blacks fielding a reasonably settled line-up and the confidence coming out of their last game, it will be incredibly difficult for Rennie’s men. All Blacks to retain the Bledisloe by winning by 10.
2021: New Zealand won 38-21 at 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 at Wellington
2019: New Zealand won 36-0 in Auckland
2019: Australia won 46-27 at Perth
Australia: 15 Andrew Kellaway 14 Tom Wright 13 Len Ikitau 12 Lalakai Foketi 11 Marika Koroibete 10 Bernard Foley 9 Jake Gordon 8 Rob Valetini 7 Pete Samu 6 Rob Leota 5 Matt Philip 4 Jed Holloway 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 David Porecki, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Nic White, 22 Reece Hodge, 23 Jordan Petaia
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Scott Barrett, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Dalton Papali’i, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Quinn Tupaea
dates: Thursday, Sep 15
Venue: Marvel Stadium, Melbourne
Kick off: 19:45 local (10:45 BST, 9:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
READ MORE: All Blacks: Karl Te Nana believes it’s ‘too late’ to change coach and backs Sam Cane ahead of Bledisloe Cup clash with Wallabies