This first match of the two-game series for the Bledisloe Cup with be played on Kiwi soil between New Zealand and Australia. With that, the return to International rugby has begun.
Suitably, the same nation who was the first to restart domestic rugby back in May, New Zealand will host the first of the annual Bledisloe Cup tests, before both sides fly to Australia for The Rugby Championship, and two further games to decide the holder of the Bledisloe Cup.
Both sides announced their squads on Friday, although news just out of the All Blacks captains run saw Beauden Barrett withdrawn, A tight achilles meant the safe option was to insert Damian McKenzie at fullback in the opening match of the two-game series.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 10, 2020
Aside from that, the teams will head out onto Sky Stadium at 4:00pm, in a rare Sunday afternoon fixture. The timing of the game is to maximize the audience, as well as aligning with the two-week quarantine period that the Wallabies have just exited. The 14 days were required as per New Zealand (NZ) government health protocols, which initially were a bone of contention. Though reports suggest that the Aussie players have used the time to bond well, that will have them with a stronger team culture than the All Blacks might have created after six days altogether.
An important component in any series, one that wasn’t straight off the back of a Super Rugby season – something new for players to absorb, in one of the more memorable backdrops to an International test match.
Bledisloe Cup: first match in two-game series on Kiwi soil
New head coaches for each side will bring a new perspective to the Bledisloe Cup. A key to the match could be how the experienced men are in place, with several new faces in the Wallabies the one difference. Dave Rennie has brought his desire to combat the inventive play of Richie Mo’unga, by starting the two-game series with James O’Connor (see main picture). His solid season with the Reds rewarded with a start in the two-game series.
Renie told media, “We’re trying to grow this side, not just for this weekend but for the future. We’ve put a lot of emphasis around defence though and we know that’s going to be really important. The teams that have beaten the All Blacks in the past have limited [teams] to less than 15 or 16 points.
“That’s our challenge.”
With three men making their debuts, that selection strategy proves that Australia is beginning a new ear, while Ian Foster has played a safer option. His debutants are all from the bench, proving that Foster is similar to his predecessor, in going with experience instead of playing his cards early.
Led by Sam Cane (above), his role in a powerful backrow must stop the likes of Pete Samu and the new International, Harry Wilson. This first test of the captaincy must reinforce the decision to announce Cane as skipper early, when his season with Chiefs was blighted by successive losses and another neck injury.
With men all around him to rely on, the likes of Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, and Ardie Savea will each want the first test of the season to lay down a marker. Add in the skillset of Jordie Barrett and George Bridge out on the wings, it will require absolute defence from Australia to hold out the hosts.
New Zealand v Australia – Sunday, October 11. Sky Stadium, 4:00pm (NZT)
Expect plenty of action out of Wellington. Even though the first International can often look a little rusty, both sides need to establish continuity early. This two-game series will allow the Wallabies the chance to take the Bledisloe Cup contest up to Eden Park next weekend, before it could still be contested for during The Rugby Championship.
Lose, and their confidence might diminish if the All Blacks make the best possible start on an expected, dry field Sunday. Lose again at Eden Park – where the All Blacks are undefeated since 1994 – and the Cup will stay in New Zealand’s hands. Win, and the decider will be on Aussie soil.
Note: the Bledisloe Cup can only change hands if one team wins two matches or more. A drawn series still sees New Zealand retain the Cup.
“Main photo credit”
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