WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Two of the All Blacks’ longest winning streaks will come under threat when they meet Australia in consecutive Bledisloe Cup tests at Auckland’s Eden Park over the next two weekends.
The All Blacks have held the Bledisloe Cup — played for annually between New Zealand and Australia — for the past 18 years and haven’t lost to the Wallabies at Eden Park since 1986, before most of the current Australia players were born.
Those records stressed the dominance of the All Blacks over the Wallabies in the past two decades and underlined their wider standing in world rugby: they won two World Cups during the Bledisloe reign.
But the New Zealand team that will take the field at Eden Park on Saturday is not up to the standard of those that established the winning streak. There has been little authority in the All Blacks’ recent wins over Australia and they contrived last year to lose for the first time to Argentina, the world’s 10th-ranked team which hadn’t played a match in more than the year.
The New Zealand team which lost to England in the semifinals of the 2019 World Cup in Japan was out-muscled to a greater degree than any All Blacks team in recent memory. Historic losses to Ireland and Argentina, a sub-par performance against the British and Irish Lions and other, generally underwhelming recent efforts have added to the impression of an All Blacks team not at its best.
New Zealand was on top of the world after the 2015 World Cup but retirements hit it hard and while many teams didn’t exactly catch up with the high-pace, high-skill style the All Blacks were playing at that time, they learned how to stymie it. The All Blacks since have struggled against top forward packs, most stronger than their own, and against tight and consistent defense.
They play often with a minority share of possession and with fleeting control over the pace of the game, dependent on counter-attacks and turnovers for play-making chances.
The All Blacks now have to defend their Eden Park record against a Wallabies team which seems stronger in the tight five, better coached and better prepared after a tight July test series against France. Australia won the first match by two points, France the second by two and Australia clinched the series in the deciding third with a three-point win.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said the Wallabies are a “very physical, committed, ruck and run type team and they’ve spoken about dominating us up front and playing a fast physical game.
“Both teams know each other pretty well so I don’t think there will be many surprises about how to play. It’s the application of what they want to do on the day that really matters.”
The All Blacks come into the Bledisloe series after substantial wins over Tonga and Fiji in July while the Wallabies have been through a much tougher and more valuable series against France. Head coach Dave Rennie said the 2-1 win had put the Wallabies in a confident frame of mind for the Bledisloe series in which they can end an historic run of losses.
“We’ve played with a lot of courage (against France), we’ve had our backs to the wall a couple of times, found a way to win,” Rennie said. “That’s really important against an All Blacks side.
“You’ve got to be prepared to go for 80 minutes. There has been many a side that’s been in the race for 60 the All Blacks have blown them away. We know they’ve got a quality bench coming on, but we’re pretty happy with ours too."
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