Prized as highly as the Webb Ellis Cup, the Bledisloe Cup was secured [yet again] in Sydney, as the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies 5-43.
Playing on hostile ground, it was hyped as a test in the balance. Pundits had more confidence in the Australian team holding their ground on home soil. Holding off a resurgent All Blacks proved more difficult than many predicted though. And in losing by 38 points it became the largest winning margin ever on Australian soil.
The Bledisloe Cup is staying in NZ 🏆
The All Blacks have destroyed Australia in the opening game of this year's Rugby Championship to win by 38 in Sydney.
— Superbru (@Superbru) October 31, 2020
The previous highest margin was a similar 6-43 win in 1996, so New Zealand improves that by one point yet, the gulf between the sides looks to have widened since the drawn test match in October. For the visitors that will make for a happy group who now prepare for the final Bledisloe Cup test, that is also round two of the Tri Nations.
But for the hosts, head-scratching and self-analysis will be the constant for a group who have now conceded 70 points in two games.
Bledisloe Cup secured after record Wallabies defeat 5-43
The record continues a streak of high scoring encounters between the trans-Tasman rivals. With New Zealand enjoying 8/10 wins over the last few years, it hides a respectable home record that the Wallabies did hold [30%] than their away record in New Zealand. With plenty of potential, commentators and ex-players placed more confidence in this side’s chances than in many of the games coached by Michael Cheika.
After Saturday night’s result, 2015 is the last win by the hosts in Sydney. Apart from that and a stronger record in Brisbane, high scoring losses have now become an all too familiar trend. Why?
Facing the three-time World Champions is intimidating enough. Yet when the juggernaut begins the game in such an aggressive style, too often, the Wallabies go into their shells. Potential goes out of the window, they scramble yet not in a positive manner. They seem to lose the fight early, dropping their heads, and the floodgates open for New Zealand.
While the stress of playing the All Blacks will always be a factor, head coach Dave Rennie would have wanted to halt that losing sequence when motivating his side during the week. A forceful voice, he and captain Michael Hooper asked for self-belief yet the young group once again submitted to the superior play of the visitors. They wanted to confront the All Blacks pack, disrupt clean ball and had aimed to target new winger Caleb Clarke.
Down 0-26 at halftime, those positive intentions would have been lost when faced with a such a clinical effort by New Zealand. Sky Sports analyst Sir John Kirwan called it, “the Australians aren’t playing well because the All Blacks aren’t letting them. The variation in the All Blacks kicking game is amazing. They’re putting pressure on them. Accuracy at the clean-out, scrum going well.
“When the All Blacks are in this sort of mood, no teams can stay with them.”
Losing two senior players in Matt Toomua and James O’Connor before the test, was a death knell. It took away the much-needed experience of test match rugby. And while every effort would have been made by incoming first-five Noah Lolesio and his inside center Irae Simone, both were cruelly exposed to the All Blacks’ defensive pressure. They met Richie Mo’unga and Jack Goodhue; the Crusaders duo, who were at their most impressive.
Richie Mo’unga v Australia 📊
8️⃣0️⃣ Minutes ⏰
1️⃣1️⃣ Passes 🖐
0️⃣5️⃣ Carries 🏃
0️⃣5️⃣ Defenders beaten 🕺
0️⃣3️⃣ Clean breaks 💨
9️⃣1️⃣ Running metres 🔥
0️⃣1️⃣ Try assist 🅰️
0️⃣2️⃣ Tries 🏉
2️⃣3️⃣ Points 🙌#BledisloeCup #BledisloeCup2020 #AUSvNZL pic.twitter.com/oIr4uDCwxa
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) October 31, 2020
Mo’unga had a virtuoso performance. Collecting 23 points, he is reaching the potential seen in 2018, and consistent selection helps in forming good connections with his halfback, the indomitable Aaron Smith.
New Zealand should be please to, as yellow cards to Jordie Barrett and Shannon Frizell for making contact with their opponent’s heads did not cause them heartache [like it did in Perth last year]. If the scores were locked up, being reduced to 14 players might have boosted the energies of the hosts. Fortunately, it was only a bump on the way to a massive margin and the fourth match in Sydney with a scoreline above 40 points.
If Rennie is looking at the long term, introducing four debutants in Sydney; adding to more debuting players when in New Zealand, that is commendable. He must be sure that heavy defeats like this, do not demoralize his new men though. Lolesio in particular will need to rebound quickly (if he can). Like many of his Australian teammates, the ACT Brumbies player looked at home in Super Rugby Australia yet, test match rugby is one huge step up.
The Wallabies backline will have to answer the fire brought to them in kind, when the series moves to Suncorp Stadium next weekend. If not for their own sakes, but for Rugby Australia’s.
New Zealand Rugby holds Bledisloe Cup for 18th consecutive year
Commandeering the ownership of the Bledisloe Cup for 18 consecutive international seasons should be celebrated. 117 years of challenges, 169 games, the annual contest is on par with any of the home nations rivalries. What is different, is the commanding sequence of winning eras.
NZ Rugby will be celebrating the retention of a trophy it has held firm since 2003, which must surely now have a permanent mark when taken out of the trophy cabinet. The players will tell you that it is the key goal each and every season, to secure the Bledisloe Cup. It has mana, heritage, and is a prized possession.
When Ian Foster was asked prior to the game, he stated, “the Bledisloe Cup is on the line. It’s a real chance for us to come into their home patch, a place which they take a lot of pride in playing and for a trophy which means a lot to them, and we need to show them how much it means to us. The chance to go and win a trophy that’s precious to us is exciting.
“None of our players, even our experienced ones, have had to win the trophy in Australia. In the past the deciding game has always been in New Zealand, so I think it’s a great challenge for us.”
With the series in the balance, a win for Australia would have done wonders for their game. Drawing even, meaning the final game in Brisbane would have placed more pressure on the visitors – might have even placed doubt in some All Blacks supporter’s minds. If they had of achieved that win, it would have boosted the support for the Wallabies but, it was not realized.
For many, the damage to the new team’s reputation will be monumental. Routed yet again by New Zealand, a vicious Aussie media has begun to dismantle any positive aura that was developing. Some will lose faith already, and while that is surely far too soon to be true, being the third-choice national sport behind cricket and rugby league, fans who had high hopes might just put their gold jerseys back in the draw.
Sport at the highest level is savage. Winning one day, a loser the next. For Australia, the thickness of a rugby post stopped them from recording a rare win in New Zealand. Reece Hodge’s attempt to win in Wellington had the nation on the edge of a return to golden days yet now, the dark clouds are forming.
That is not to say that a win in Queensland is not possible. If the players are able to gather themselves and bring the fight to the All Blacks, then the belief will return. Yet for most who witnessed the carnage in Sydney, it all looked a little familiar. The All Blacks look to have found their game while the Wallabies appear to be paddling in circles, desperately needing a win to point them in the right direction.
“Main photo credit”
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