After a hefty defeat at the hands of the Wallabies in Perth, the All Blacks have decided to ‘Roll the Dice’ in team selections for their home test in Auckland on August 17. The crucial Bledisloe Cup decider will have so much more riding on it, considering Rugby World Cup form, rankings and self-confidence levels.
In an unfamiliar position, head coach Steve Hansen admitted this week that his group is under pressure. While still saying that he was “loving it,” fans and rugby followers can only imagine the internal and external ramifications that a possible second-straight loss to Australia, would cause.
‘Heaven forbid’ might be the public sentiment. All the while, competing nations at the Japan tournament – that begins on September 20 – will be fascinated by the outcome.
An All Blacks (AB’s) loss will be unprecedented in recent memory. 16 years of dominance in trans-Tasman rugby is on the line, in this Bledisloe Cup decider.
🗣️ "We didn't front up last week and we need to front up this week or the Bledisloe Cup will be going back to Australia."
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) August 15, 2019
AB’s must ‘Roll the Dice’ in Bledisloe Cup decider
“To win the World Cup we’ve had to roll the dice a bit and that’s the No.1 priority. We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think that the guys we’ve put in are good enough to do the job on Saturday if we play well.”
Hansen’s opinion is, that players get themselves mentally and physically prepared for the challenge. And then his expectation is that they “walk towards that pressure, and enjoy the challenge of it.”
Speaking to media on Thursday after announcing his 23 players to front-up for the Bledisloe Cup decider, he was pointed in regards to how individuals must step up. He directed some of the responsibility to leaders, such as Sam Whitelock. That he will need to ‘up the anty’ in terms of work rate, defence and in his new starting combination with Patrick Tuipulotu.
The locking selection change was forced, due to suspension of Scott Barrett (due to his red card in Perth). Tuipulotu has to reach his own personal peak of performance, against a tough Australian pair in Izack Rodda and Adam Coleman. For the AB’s to gain parity, and to even knock-over the Wallabies pack, it is an indicator of how intense the home side wish to show an account of themselves.
The other selection changes were a surprise to some. Owen Franks replaced by Nepo Laulala; the Chiefs front-rower being offered a rare starting role. With a mindset on giving players an opportunity, the selectors feel that Laulala is ‘capable of a top performance’ under pressure.
In changes from the squad's 23 which played the first #BledisloeCup Test in Perth, Nepo Laulala comes in for Owen Franks at tighthead prop, with Ofa Tuungafasi coming in for Atu Moli on the bench. #NZLvAUShttps://t.co/HLV4nTAJTF
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) August 14, 2019
Outside backs combination gives Young AB’s opportunity
Both of the starting All Blacks wingers have been dropped in favour of a young Crusaders pair. Sevu Reece (see main picture) and George Bridge (see below image) are granted a start in the Bledisloe Cup decider, in place of the experienced Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane.
“Whilst Rieko and Bender are world-class players, we think these boys are capable of being world-class too. They are both confident young men, they believe in themselves.
“Both have come off a very good season with the Crusaders, are in good form. Both have played well, and are given an opportunity,” Hansen said in a video message on the AllBlacks.com website.
Reece, with only one test under his belt, will especially be both excited and concerned. Opposing him will be Reece Hodge, who scored twice in the opening Bledisloe Cup match. Now in the series-deciding game, the Super Rugby top try scorer has his opportunity to show what potential he has to cross the chalk in the white-hot atmosphere of Test match rugby.
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) August 16, 2019
1. Joe Moody (39)
2. Dane Coles (63)
3. Nepo Laulala (18)
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (23)
5. Samuel Whitelock (110)
6. Ardie Savea (37)
7. Sam Cane (62)
8. Kieran Read – captain (120)
9. Aaron Smith (85)
10. Richie Mo’unga (11)
11. George Bridge (3)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (52)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (36)
14. Sevu Reece (1)
15. Beauden Barrett (76)
16. Codie Taylor (43)
17. Ofa Tuungafasi (28)
18. Angus Ta’avao (6)
19. Jackson Hemopo (4)
20. Matt Todd (19)
21. TJ Perenara (57)
22. Ngani Laumape (12)
23. Jordie Barrett (10)
Assembling for the Captain’s run, skipper Kieran Read spoke of the responsibility that players must accept. Having a ‘bloody nose’ from last weeks game would be turned into a positive. He, alongside the majority of players, are not used to defeat. Steve Hansen himself will celebrate 100 tests in his role, with an 89% winning record. Uncomfortable after defeat, it makes this occasion an important moment in an important season.
🗣️ "These moments are built for us as All Blacks" – Kieran Read sets the scene ahead of the Bledisloe Cup decider at @edenparknz.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) August 16, 2019
So in context, losing is not a common result. The loss in fact altering World Rugby rankings to the effect that Wales or England could challenge the number one position of the AB’s – after their respective test match in Cardiff.
The challenge from Australia is very real. And the challenges upcoming in Japan will be the biggest test of this current All Blacks player’s record.
Fan support will boost ‘challenged’ All Blacks record
At Eden Park, the AB’s have one of the most dominant records in International rugby. Undefeated since 1992, with only two drawn matches being the closet that New Zealand has come to tasting defeat.
This week, in the crucial Bledisloe Cup decider, they will be challenged by Australia.
Steve Hansen remarked on that factor, in a YouTube video. He said, “there is no better support than our fans here in New Zealand. People will travel from far and wide to the game, we look forward to hearing them and, giving them a performance that they can be proud of.”
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) August 16, 2019
That sense of pride, of defending a proud record at home; as well as the legacy of past All Blacks teams, are all motivating factors. The recent news of the passing of Bruce Deans, and of Sir Brian Lochore, will likely be honoured and respected. Playing for the jersey, for the Bledisloe Cup and, to rebuild self-confidence leading into the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Even if the landscape of form after recent performances has changed the betting odds of RWC favourites, the AB’s are still number one in fans eyes. Back-to-back defeats will challenge that superiority, and it might in fact be the impetus for the All Blacks team to reach deep within, to meet the challenge head-on.
“Main photo credit”
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