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Bledisloe Cup: New Zealand v Australia Preview
New Zealand will be looking to make history when they take on the Wallabies this Saturday. The All Blacks are favourites to cap off a stellar twelve months, that has seen them win both the 2015 Rugby World Cup and 2016 Rugby Championship, by surpassing their world record 17-match unbeaten run which they currently share with the 1998 Springboks. Steve Hansen’s men are heavy favourites to break the record but face a foe who ended their record-setting unbeaten streak: Australia.
So will the Kiwis break the world record or will the Wallabies end their arch rivals unbeaten run once again?
New Zealand v Australia | Saturday 22 October | Eden Park | 08:30
To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 1/20 | Draw 33/1 | Australia 8/1
New Zealand (-22.5) 9/10 | Australia (+22.5) 9/10
Flawless, scintillating, mesmerizing, ingenious, all-conquering ………. I can go on with the superlatives but I reckon my fingers would be worn down to the knuckle before I ran out of ways to describe this current crop of All Blacks.
The 2016 rugby season has seen New Zealand rugby reach a new high - he would have thought that possible. The All Blacks have broken so many records this term that you expect every second word uttered by their commentators, Justin Marshall and Tony Johnson, to include “that’s another new record for Hansen’s men”.
Speaking of records, New Zealand started their 2016 Rugby Championship – which was also their first Bledisloe Cup game of the year – with a record-breaking away win over Australia. They followed up that 42-8 victory with a 29-20 victory over the Wallabies seven days later. They also broke their biggest winning margin record over South Africa in the final round of the Rugby Championship, where they cantered to a 57-15 victory in Durban.
You know you’re rugby is in a healthy place when your biggest concern is Aaron Smith’s airport bathroom antics. The world’s best scrum-half has stepped down from this week's squad due to his actions.
Losing a player of Smith’s caliber would significantly weaken most rugby teams. Not the All Blacks, though, as Hurricanes bundle of energy TJ Perrenara will once again get the chance to stake a claim for the New Zealand number nine jersey. The Porirua-native put in a fantastic shift against South Africa in the All Blacks last outing. His ability to up the tempo of the game with a quick tap is likely to reap huge dividends against an Australian side that has been guilty of switching off after the concession of a penalty.
While second place in the Rugby Championship will have added some gloss to Australia’s 2016 season, it’s more a case of papering over the cracks rather than fixing the wall. This year has seen the Wallabies whitewashed by England, suffer their heaviest defeat on home soil, and throw away their best chance at ending their 53-year Loftus losing streak.
The only two real ray of sunshine in this rather dark portrait has been the rise of youngsters Reece Hodge and Dane Haylett-Petty. The two young guns will have crucial roles to play this weekend. Both players have solid kicking games and will need to use this attribute to try and counteract the juggernaut that is the All Blacks backline.
Another man who will have a pivotal role to play this coming Saturday is flanker Michael Hopper. The Waratahs man has carried this Australian pack throughout the year and is likely to have to do the same at Eden Park. His ability to slow up opposition ball at ruck and still make it to the other side of the field to make a try saving tackle has helped save Australian blushes on numerous occasions. He played a crucial role in his side’s most recent victory over Argentina at Twickenham, linking play and making more tackles than any other player on the field.
Hooper will be aided in his quest for breakdown dominance by the return of fellow tearaway, David Pocock. The Brumbies loosie has recovered from a broken hand is likely to make an immediate return to the Wallabies starting XV.
One man who won’t run out at Eden Park is Will Genia. The former Reds man has been forced to return to his current club, Stade Francais, as this Test does not fall within the IRB’s international window.
Verdict: New Zealand (-22.5) 9/10
New Zealand will make history this coming Saturday. And I reckon they’ll do it in style. Back the All Blacks to clear the - 22.5 handicap at 9/10.