The biggest rivalry in southern hemisphere sport has exploded, with the Wallabies travelling to Eden Park to face the All Blacks in game two of the Bledisloe Cup. The Wallabies head into the contest with renewed confidence and optimism after handing the All Blacks their largest loss in history after a 47-26 win in Perth last Saturday.
In order to retain the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002, they must travel to the fortress that is Eden Park to face an All Blacks team looking to avenge the loss and re-establish themselves as the premier team in world rugby.
The Wallabies got off to a slow start to their 2019 campaign, losing 35-17 to the Springboks at Ellis Park in a sloppy performance that saw the side waste possession and opportunities.
The side would bounce back the following week, with a more convincing performance, defeating the Pumas 20-16 in a game dominated by a committed defensive effort and an impressive scrum.
However, their best performance would be saved for their following game, putting in a clinical performance to dominate the All Blacks 47-26 at Optus Stadium. They now head to Eden Park with dreams of breaking droughts firmly in their mind, having not won a game at Eden Park since 1986 and a Bledisloe series since 2002.
The All Blacks have had a less than convincing start to 2019, beginning their campaign with a 20-16 win over Los Pumas in Buenos Aires. The much-weakened side raced out to a 20-9 lead at halftime but was forced to out the rampaging Argentinians on their goal line after they were held to nill in the second half.
They were they held to a 16-all draw against the Springboks after looking certain to win after the sharp boot of Richie Mo’unga and a try to the flying mullet Jack Goodhue. However, like the Wallabies, Herschel Jantjies broke the hearts of the home supporters, pouncing on a chip kick with minutes remaining to split the points.
They were then humbled by the Wallabies, recording their worse loss in history. This was compounded by the loss of Scott Barrett due to a red card and Jack Goodhue, who has been sidelined with an upper leg injury.
The Wallabies have made minor changes to the victorious side last week, highlighted by lock Rory Arnold being ruled out with a hand injury. He has been replaced by Rebels second-rower Adam Coleman, with Rob Simmons coming onto the bench.
In further team news, Liam Wright comes onto the bench for his potential debut in gold, joined by Adam Ashley-Cooper who has replaced Tom Banks as the outside back reserve for his first test of the year.
The All Blacks have made widespread changes to the side that suffered the record-breaking loss to the Wallabies last week. Chiefs prop Nepo Laulala comes in for Owen Franks at tighthead prop, with Blues prop Ofa Tuungafasi coming in for Atu Moli on the bench. Team-mate Patrick Tuipulotu will start at lock alongside Sam Whitelock in place of the suspended Scott Barrett, with Jackson Hemopo coming onto the bench.
In the backs, Sonny Bill Williams will start at inside centre, pushing Anton Lienert-Brown to outside, replacing the injured Jack Goodhue. There’s a fresh pair of wingers, with George Bridge and Sevu Reece come in for Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith respectively, whilst Jordie Barrett comes onto the reserves bench.
Adam Coleman v Patrick Tuipulotu
Both locks come into the second tests with a point to prove after replacing their more-fancied teammates. Coleman was a regular starter in the Wallabies set across the past three years before the emergence of Rodda and Arnold saw him riding the bench. Tuipulotu has faced a similar demotion, with Scott Barrett displacing him from the All Blacks set up in 2017, with his dominance along with the likes of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick restricting him to just two tests at the end of last year.
Putting aside both players claims for a World Cup spot, this will be a crucial area of the game that the All Blacks will want to disrupt in order to secure victory over the Wallabies. The Australians have been operating at a 90% success rate across the Rugby Championship. If Tuipulotu can disrupt the first couple of throws from Latu and potentially steal a couple, it could help dent the confidence of the Wallabies pack and cough up memories of the previous year’s struggles.
Samu Kerevi v Sonny Bill Williams
This matchup this week will a battle of prolific v profile when Samu Kerevi lines up against Sonny Bill Williams at inside centre. Kerevi has been one of the shining lights of the Wallabies campaign so far, leading Rugby Championship in terms of metres gained and line breaks. Kerevi has positioned himself as the premier centre in the world, with the barnstorming Queenslander becoming the central piece in the Wallabies attack and a strong showing from him will put the Wallabies in a great position to win this match.
SBW is probably the best known outside back in World Rugby thanks to his stint in rugby league. However, he has failed to find the form that made him a dual-premiership winner and an automatic starter in the All Blacks set-up, being dropped from the initial squad for the Bledisloe series. The injury to Goodhue has provided him with the perfect opportunity to reclaim his spot and live up to his big profile, with a World Cup spot pretty much guaranteed if he can stop Kerevi.
Numbers that matter (Thanks to Opta Sports)
2000:The last time that the Wallabies won consecutive games against the All Blacks
1986: The last time that the Wallabies beat the All Blacks at Eden Park, losing 17 straight
6,221: Days since an Australian last hoisted the Bledisloe Cup
5: The age I was when the Wallabies last won the Bledisloe Cup
20%: The Wallabies record away from home over the past ten games, winning just two (Italy in Padova and Argentina in Salta)
4,933,246: The approximate amount of people in Australia who have not witnessed the Wallabies hoist the Bledisloe Cup, nearly 200,000 more than the population of New Zealand
42:The All Blacks consecutive winning streak at Eden Park (Last loss v France, 1986)
Despite their strong win last week in Perth, I just can’t back the Wallabies to win at Eden Park. The fact that the All Blacks have had three sub-par games has me waiting for that big statement performance and with the Bledisloe Cup in danger, this seems like the perfect stage for it. It will a big ask for the Wallabies to win at the fortress that is Eden Park. I think the All Blacks will find a way to somehow nab victory at the death.
Match Prediction: All Blacks by 3
Bold Prediction: 2+ cards shown during the match
Wallabies (15-1): Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Christian Lealiifano, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (c), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio
Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Liam Wright, Will Genia, Matt To’omua, Adam Ashley-Cooper
All Blacks (15-1): Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.
Reserves: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Jackson Hemopo, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett
Date: Saturday, August 17th
Venue: Optus Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 5:35 pm AEDT (7:35pm local time)
Where to Watch: Channel 10 on FTA and Fox Sports 6 (Channel 506) for Foxtel.