Weary Wallabies fans are bracing for the 2018 edition of the annual Bledisloe Cup: the one-sided yet passionately contested rugby series between New Zealand and Australia due to kick off at at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday night.
The All Blacks have dominated the Trans Tasman rivalry in recent history, claiming the last 15 titles.
So for the 15th time in a row, Australian fans are asking: ‘Is there any chance of defeating the dominant All Blacks?’. The annual answer still applies: there’s always hope.
That’s a fan’s perspective. Bookies beg to differ. On Friday night the All Blacks were extremely short-priced favourites.
After a spirited performance in 2017, the Wallabies come into the 2018 series with a mountain of expectation as they attempt to break the drought and take home the Cup for the first time since 2002.
With the past two Tests between the fierce rivals going down to the wire, Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is bracing for another torrid trans-Tasman showdown at ANZ Stadium.
“There’s no easy way around this thing, it’s going to be hard and that’s why different teams, different players have struggled over the course of however many years,” Hooper said after Australia’s captain’s run on Friday.
Hooper says striking the perfect balance between aggression and accuracy will be key in ending New Zealand’s dominant run.
“The line’s hard to pick. You’ve got to feel it off your gut sometimes and it’s something certainly the leaders in our team are constantly working on – trying to pick that line,” the flanker said.
“You want to be, yes, fired up and be ready to get off your line and disrupt and everything like that.
“But also when things don’t go your way, which against quality teams sometimes they don’t, you’ve got to try to drag the momentum back.
“That is very much what we’re going to do this week – stick to our stuff, stick to our game and our game’s ready to go against these guys tomorrow night.”
Having broken a seven match losing streak against the All Blacks with a 23-18 triumph in Brisbane last October, this current Wallabies lineup does have the potential to make New Zealand fans nervous.
The 2017 series showed the Wallabies have the firepower to match the dominant All Black’s outfit.
Taking away one dreadful half in the first game at ANZ Stadium (where the Wallabies trailed 54-6 after 50 minutes), Michael Cheika’s side convincingly outscored the All Blacks 88 points to 53 for the rest of the series.
The Wallabies are also well prepared to start the series this season, coming off a high-quality series with world No.2 Ireland in June and a newly-introduced recent “trial” match.
This will instil confidence in the side, as will the return champion flanker David Pocock, who missed last season’s series last season while on a sabbatical from rugby.
Throw in the fact that the All Blacks have not been at their imperious best for some time and question marks over the form of two-time world player of the year Beauden Barrett and health of captain Kieran Read, it seems as if now is the time for the Wallabies to snap the Bledisloe drought.
Teams for game one of the Bledisloe Cup:
Wallabies: 15. Israel Folau 14. Dane Haylett-Petty 13. Reece Hodge 12. Kurtley Beale 11. Marika Koroibete 10. Bernard Foley 9. Will Genia 8. David Pocock 7. Michael Hooper (captain) 6. Lukhan Tui 5. Adam Coleman 4. Izack Rodda 3. Sekope Kepu 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau 1. Tom Robertson. Reserves: 16. Tolu Latu 17. Allan Alaalatoa 18. Taniela Tupou 19. Rob Simmons 20. Pete Samu 21. Nick Phipps 22. Matt Toomua 23. Jack Maddocks.
All Blacks: 15. Ben Smith 14. Waisake Naholo 13. Jack Goodhue 12. Ryan Crotty 11. Rieko Ioane 10. Beauden Barrett 9. Aaron Smith 8. Kieran Read (capt) 7. Sam Cane 6. Liam Squire 5. Sam Whitelock 4. Brodie Retallick 3. Owen Franks 2. Codie Taylor 1. Joe Moody. Reserves: 16. Nathan Harris 17. Karl Tu’inukuafe 18. Ofa Tuungafasi 19. Scott Barrett 20. Ardie Savea 21. TJ Perenara 22. Damian McKenzie 23. Anton Lienert-Brown.
– with AAP