Five things to watch in rugby's Bledisloe II
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Auckland (AFP) –
After the dramatic first Bledisloe Cup Test between New Zealand and Australia, a 16-16 draw deemed a moral win for the Wallabies, there were lessons to be learned for both sides as well as the match officials.
Here are five things to look out for in Bledisloe II in Auckland on Sunday:
- Did you see that, ref? -
The pressure is on Australian whistleblower Angus Gardner and his assistants to be extra vigilant this week, and the All Blacks have been hammering home the point all week.
Gardner upset his countrymen in the first Bledisloe Cup encounter when he was the assistant referee who missed Rieko Ioane putting a foot in touch in the lead-up to the All Blacks' first try.
The All Blacks were also bitter that frequent late hits on fly-half Richie Mo'unga went unnoticed by the match officials, and despite assistant coach John Plumtree saying All Blacks "don't cry", they have raised the topic almost daily since.
Gardner is also likely to receive reminders about accuracy at the usual pre-match meetings with the coaches.
- The fear factor -
Does the much hyped All Blacks fear factor -- from the imposing black jersey to the mystical advantage they are supposed to get from their pre-match haka -- still exist?
It was absent last week when the All Blacks faced a fired-up Australian side ready to reverse their form slump of recent years by following the blueprint of new coach "Dingo" Dave Rennie.
His trademark, most evident when he had the successful Waikato Chiefs and New Zealand under-20 sides, is teams that intimidate and push the boundaries to see what they can get away with.
Despite the All Blacks knowing what to expect, they were still bullied in the first Test but scrumhalf Aaron Smith was adamant they will not be pushed around again.
"We've had our smack on the nose and it's up to us to respond," he said.
- Garden of Eden -
By the numbers, the Wallabies have not held the Bledisloe Cup since 2002, have not won in New Zealand since Dunedin in 2001 and have not triumphed at the All Blacks' Eden Park fortress in 19 Tests since 1986.
In fact, the All Backs haven't lost against any team in 43 Tests at the Auckland ground since 1994, and it is now the Wallabies' chance to rewrite the books.
After last week's cliff-hanger the New Zealanders have been quick to point out what happened last year, when they lost the first match in Perth 47-26, but won 36-0 in Eden Park a week later.
But these are mere statistics to this confident Wallabies unit, with no relevance to Sunday's game.
Assistant Geoff Parling described the venue as "just a rugby pitch" and scrumhalf Nic White, who has lost a few at Eden Park, said it's not the ground but the attitude.
The Wallabies were deeply disappointed not to win last week so "we're going to make it about us and what we can bring", White said.
- To drop or not -
During the frenetic closing 10 minutes of the first Test, with the scores tied and regulation time over, neither side backed themselves to attempt a drop goal for the game breaker.
The All Blacks practised every possible scenario before the match except a 'droppie' and when Richie Mo'unga put himself in position for a shot, Aaron Smith sent the ball wide when Jordie Barrett sensed a try was possible.
The Wallabies at least practised a snap three-pointer, but lost the plot when they needed it.
"We ended up going wider and turned it over. An opportunity lost, obviously," lamented Rennie.
But if Sunday's clash again goes down to the wire, then the drop goal -- twice a World Cup winning weapon -- is certain to be at the fore.
- Foster v Rennie -
There is just as much pressure off the field, where rival coaches Ian Foster and Dave Rennie are looking for comprehensive performances in just their second games in charge.
Foster, after eight years as the assistant All Blacks coach, stayed close to the formula he knew but could not get a win.
That sparked rumblings in New Zealand that the popular and highly successful Canterbury Crusaders coach Scott Robertson should have got the job when Steve Hansen departed last year.
Rennie also has a point to prove to critics in Australia. When he was appointed coach, former Wallabies fullback Greg Martin said he didn't "want another Kiwi coaching the national team".
There is no doubt the Wallabies performance last week won much-needed public support for Rennie in Australia, but he needs to show it was no flash in the pan.
Whe Kiwi Robbie Deans coached the Wallabies to a 34-19 victory in his first Test in 2008, the All Blacks romped home 39-10 a week later at Eden Park.
© 2020 AFP