All Blacks planning 'blowtorch job' for Hodge
The All Blacks will apply the blowtorch to Reece Hodge, the Wallabies’ latest flyhalf offering, as they plot to complete a Bledisloe Cup series drubbing in Brisbane.
Rookie playmaker Noah Lolesio has been sent back to the bench for the Brisbane match, after the 43-5 thrashing in Sydney – which saw New Zealand secure the trophy.
And they now have set their sights on Hodge, who will make just his second start at flyhalf in 42 Tests.
His only other outing at No.10 came in 2017 against Japan in Yokohama when regular playmaker Bernard Foley fell sick, with the Wallabies winning 63-30 and Hodge successfully converting all nine tries.
The All Blacks will be a far tougher proposition for the 26-year-old, who has won the majority of his caps on the wing, with New Zealand coach Ian Foster saying they planned to test him out.
“He [Hodge] has shown skills in the past at No.10, but it’s going to be another thing to go into a big Test like this and it’s something that we’re going to ask a few questions of,” Foster said.
The All Blacks mentor thought Hodge’s selection was designed to improve the Wallabies’ kicking game which was woeful in the third Test and bring some starch to their defence.
“They were criticised a bit with their kicking game last week so he won’t be short of that skill-set; he’s got a big kick on him,” Foster said.
“When you look at the No.10, No.12, No.13 combination they are really trying to shore that space up defensively.”
The Australians have struggled since the second-Test loss of veteran playmaker Matt Toomua, who is out for the year with a groin injury.
The injured James O’Connor will also miss the Brisbane match after a knee injury ruled him out of the Sydney clash, and it appears the Wallabies have gone back to basics.
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“They may have lost their decision-maker in Toomua so they’ve probably gone with a lot more direct running and a lot more of a power game through the midfield,” Foster said.
“Hodge is more of an old head and they will use his experience to guide the team around.”
A heavy loss would be a final trans-Tasman insult, given the venue is historically Australia’s most successful stomping ground.
The Wallabies are on a six-game winning streak in Brisbane, dating back to 2016, including a 2017 win over the All Blacks.