SYDNEY (AFP) – New Zealand have not had to wrap up the Bledisloe Cup on Australian soil in 11 years and for coach Ian Foster that is a massive motivation to snuff out Wallaby hopes of keeping the series alive when the two sides meet Saturday (Oct 31) in Sydney.
It means Australia must win on Saturday to stand any chance of lifting the trans-Tasman trophy for the first time since 2002 at the fourth and final game in Brisbane on November 7.
While the match is the third Bledisloe fixture, it is also the first game of the Tri Nations – the former Rugby Championship, rebranded after world champions South Africa pulled out – also including Argentina.
In the hosts’ favour is that New Zealand have not won the Cup in Australia since 2009, and that they have come out on top in two of their previous three matches against them at home, including a 47-26 walloping in Perth last year.
“None of our players, even our experienced ones, have had to win the trophy in Australia,” said Foster ahead of Saturday’s game.
“In the past the deciding game has always been in New Zealand, so I think it’s a great challenge for us.”
“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,” he added.
New Zealand have made three changes to the run-on side, handing number eight Hoskins Sotutu a starting debut, welcoming back veteran lock Sam Whitelock and recalling prop Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Whitelock returns after missing the Auckland Test with concussion, the same injury that has kept Joe Moody out of Saturday’s fixture, opening the way for Tu’inukuafe.
Sotutu comes in for Ardie Savea, who is on paternity leave, while all eyes will be on their new weapon, young wing Caleb Clarke whose rampaging runs in Auckland sparked comparisons to the great Jonah Lomu.
Faced with Clarke and the ever-present danger posed by Beauden Barrett, Australia have their work cut out, with coach Dave Rennie desperate for his team to cut down on missed tackles and turnovers.
Australia head into the game without experienced pair Matt To’omua and James O’Connor, who are injured – potentially a crushing blow.
Rennie has drafted in debutants Noah Lolesio at fly-half and Irae Simone at inside centre to take their place, while dumping fullback Tom Banks for veteran Dane Haylett-Petty.
The explosive Jordan Petaia will play his first Test in Australia after being preferred to Hunter Paisami at outside centre, while Allan Alaalatoa got the nod ahead of Taniela Tupou at tight-head prop.
“We’re (keeping) an eye to the future but also about winning on Saturday,” said Rennie of his decision to blood new talent, with two other debutants – Fraser McReight and Tate McDermott – on the bench.
“We’re working really hard, we’re going to get a lot better over time, but you’ve got to get results now too and we’re well aware of the quality of the opposition,” he said.
Because of coronavirus concerns, Australia are hosting the entire Tri Nations. The Wallabies and All Blacks will both play Argentina twice, with the last game on December 5.
The tournament is going ahead without South Africa’s Springboks, who decided they were not ready for bruising Test matches after a harsh coronavirus lockdown.
But Argentina, who have spent months in and out of bio-secure bubbles and quarantines, are taking part despite also not playing since the World Cup in Japan last year.