Bledisloe III: Grim Perth memories will motivate All Blacks
The All Blacks resume their campaign on Sunday evening, after an unexpected interlude that threw everything up in the air.
But they are in Perth, two weeks after their originally rescheduled third test, which itself was shifted from being the second in the series and with it the home ground advantage that the Wallabies could have used to lock up the series.
Instead, the two sides go to the stunning Optus Stadium with the cup safely locked up back in New Zealand, on a weekend when most Western Australians have one eye on the AFL semi-finals happening in their 60,000-seat venue.
It will be interesting to once again see just how packed this rugby test in the very Australian Rules dominated territory will be, given that the original fixture would have been counting on many travelling in from the eastern seaboard and indeed from New Zealand.
It certainly was that way back when the All Black and Wallabies last met in Perth, back in 2019 – a game that stands out like a dirty stain on the All Blacks’ record.
While the signs were there that Steve Hansen’s side was looking a bit shaky heading into the World Cup, it was at Perth where the wheels temporarily came off completely.
The 47-26 result stands as the highest score the All Blacks have ever conceded in their 137-year history, and the way the game went they were very lucky it wasn’t more. Nothing went right for the All Blacks that night, from conceding the opening try to Scott Barrett getting sent off.
They gave the Wallabies a sniff, and the Australians took a huge bite out of the All Blacks’ reputation just before they embarked on their doomed World Cup campaign.
Things are different now, though. Ian Foster, who despite having not yet won over all his doubters (a task that seems Sisyphean really), has his side humming along quite nicely and building towards their best rather than trying to maintain it like Hansen’s was.
There is the excitement of the new captaincy of Ardie Savea, who has admitted that the game two years ago had been talked about this week among the team.
Beauden Barrett’s rollercoaster career trajectory of the past two seasons is back on the way up thanks to Richie Mo’unga’s absence.
A couple of standout performances here could see him back in the 10 jersey for a bit longer than Mo’unga would probably like. Remember all it took for Barrett to grab the spot back in 2016 was one injury to Aaron Cruden.
By the end of that season, Barrett was World Rugby player of the year.
The battle between the two first fives could well be the defining storyline of Foster’s tenure as coach, given that both are too good to leave out and will presumably play through to the next World Cup.
While coaches often profess that these sort of situations are ‘good problems’, there will be external forces at play given Barrett’s high market value offshore and NZ Rugby’s desire to keep him here. Foster being forced to shoehorn him in if he clearly favours Mo’unga can’t really be described as good.
Back in the present, few are giving the Wallabies any chance even though the series is gone. Plenty of jokes have been levelled at them lately for their inability to win back the Bledisloe Cup since ‘Ronaldo’ meant a Brazilian and not a Portuguese footballer.
The reality is that they are good for a win every season and a half. Does that mean they’ll pull off an upset in Perth? Probably not, given the situation that both sides are in right now, but the possibility is there at a venue that holds such grim memories for this All Black side.
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