A record All Blacks win seen by just a few at Eden Park
Records were broken at Eden Park as the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies to secure the Bledisloe Cup trophy for another year but the celebrations will be tempered by what’s next.
Not only was the All Blacks 57-22 winning scoreline one for the history books – the small number of people watching in stands was also noteworthy.
The All Blacks captain and coach were trying to put a positive spin on the smallest crowd for a Bledisloe Cup test since 1958.
Official numbers from New Zealand Rugby said just over 25,000 people were in attendance for the second game in Auckland in a fortnight.
Skipper Sam Whitelock brushed aside the impact a full stadium could have on a game.
“Being a tight forward I don’t really know what’s going on in the crowd.”
But he did admit to noticing when a stadium is completely empty like it was for last year’s North versus South game held under Covid-19 alert level two conditions in Wellington.
It is increasingly likely that Saturday’s game will be the last home game for the All Blacks this year. Although Whitelock was optimistic that if the Rugby Championship games against South Africa, that have not been officially moved out of New Zealand by SANZAAR yet, go ahead in Dunedin and Auckland crowd numbers would increase.
“It would be great to have it packed out every week, so that’s something that if we get another one in New Zealand hopefully we can do.”
Coach Ian Foster didn’t think the crowd size in Auckland was unusual given the context of rugby around the world at the moment.
“I looked at Lions Springboks series, which is an iconic series, played in front of empty grandstands, we’re about to go to Australia and who knows what size grandstands we’re going to get there.”
While there is certainty the Bledisloe Cup trophy will be sitting back in New Zealand Rugby’s Wellington headquarters for another year, the players who won it don’t know when they’ll be next home.
After a week off the All Blacks head to Perth for the Rugby Championship – and potentially won’t be back in New Zealand until early December.
Foster has resisted the urge to instantly boost the squad with games in Europe and America to come.
“I guess the goal is if we’re going to be away for a long time maybe go over with a few less and then add as we go along. So that’s a certain degree of compromise but seems to make sense.”
Some players will be left behind when the bulk of the squad leaves on Sunday for Western Australia, whether it be to work on their game or for family reasons.
The plan was to ease in up to seven players over the next month including the return from injury of props Joe Moody and Ofa Tu’ungafasi as well as hooker Dane Coles.
Foster acknowledged the situation players could face with being away from family for an undetermind time was “delicate”.
The New Zealand Rugby Players Association was working with New Zealand Rugby to find solutions but Foster said there was still work to do.
“It’s tough because you’ve got this massive passion to wear the black jersey and to play for the All Blacks and we all know there is a job to do so the team is going, so the individuals within that will have a whole lot of different needs and what we’ve learnt is that you can’t kinda brushstroke it a say you’ve got to be there, you’ve got to actually work through those things and we’ve learnt that in the past too, if you take the individual approach it is often more complicated but it’s more empowering.”
The team receives their second Covid-19 vaccination on Thursday but Foster said a second tier of players also needed the jab in case there was a need to call in reinforcements during the season.
Whoever Foster has available he knows what he wants.
“We wanna go and win this championship now, we’ve won one cup and we like that and good thing is we’ve got five points in the next championship, so now we’ve just got to go and make sure we do the business.
What we did learn last year is the Aussies don’t like that sort of result and they came back strong so the template is pretty clear and obvious.”
The Wallabies are already on the back foot in the Rugby Championship.
Saturday’s loss to the All Blacks, coupled with South Africa’s winning return to the four-nation competition over the weekend, means the Australians face an uphill battle to be competitive.
Their Kiwi coach Dave Rennie is trying to mould the team into one that can foot it with the top sides.
“We wanna kick more it’s not a natural part of the DNA of Wallaby players at the moment, so it’s trying to get a balance to attacking and then trying to find some space and apply pressure through that.
If you look at someone like South Africa who play that type of game, I don’t think we’re big enough to get into an arm wrestle with sides so we’ve got play a balanced game and that’s the area we’re trying to develop.”
The Rugby Championship continues on Sunday with the Springboks taking on the Pumas in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
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