VIDEO: 'It is half the job done'
The Wallabies have the All Blacks rattled and drought-breaking history is possible, but they refuse to heed premature talk of a victory that could also set them up for a red-hot World Cup tilt.
A victory or draw on Saturday at Auckland’s Eden Park, where the Wallabies haven’t won since 1986, would secure the outsized Trans-Tasman trophy which has been in New Zealand hands since 2003.
Australia has been in the same position four times since, the most recent in 2015, but on the back of crushing 47-26 demolition of the All Blacks in Perth at the weekend, they probably have their best chance to breakthrough.
That’s the difference one great performance against the reigning world champions – admittedly reduced to 14-men in the second half – makes after the long spell of Wallabies’ muddling and mediocrity.
At last, bold team selections produced the skills needed to execute a smart, winning game plan as the Wallabies refused to kick away ball to their counter-attacking nemesis and dominated both possession and the physical battle.
The new selection panel must take some credit for the turnaround, with Director of Rugby Scott Johnson and dual international Michael O’Connor joining coach Michael Cheika.
Decisions to start scheming, darting Nic White at halfback ahead of regular Will Genia and to recall the creative James O’Connor at outside centre came up trumps behind a dominant forward pack.
Cheika was quick to tell his squad after the match that all they had achieved was a “ticket to Auckland” and the players agreed, although the win was huge vindication for the plans they’d worked hard on.
Vice-captain Samu Kerevi, who set up a try with a Jonah Lomu-like trample over All Blacks superstar Beauden Barrett, said the performance bolstered confidence.
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“We are just building our belief,” centre Kerevi said.
“It was an awesome win, awesome to keep growing belief in each other and get some momentum going into next week.
“But it is half the job done, and we know they will come out firing next week.”
The Wallabies are staying low-key, tucking themselves away in Melbourne this week and not heading to Auckland until Thursday.
They might have the luxury of deciding whether to bring champion flank David Pocock back in the Bledisloe decider after his long injury absence.
The All Blacks face some serious selection concerns due to a possible ban for red-carded lock Scott Barrett, while gun centre Jack Goodhue’s hamstring injury will likely result in a Sonny Bill Williams recall in the midfield.
On top of that, their new back row combination failed to fire as they started two regular openside flanks in Ardie Savea and Sam Cane alongside skipper Kieran Read, trying Savea at No.8 with Read switched to blindside.
Before the last World Cup in 2015, the Wallabies also won the Bledisloe opener, beating the All Blacks in Sydney only to be thrashed a week later by a vengeful New Zealand at Eden Park.
But that All Blacks team had greats like Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino to turn things around.
Kerevi, barely old enough to remember the Wallabies’ 2002 Bledisloe Cup win, said the All Blacks could never be underestimated.
“They’re still, in my eyes, the number one team in the world – I don’t care what the world ranking says,” he said.
“We respect how much they bring into the game with this Bledisloe Cup, but I think this group is focused on this week and what we can control.”
He said the Wallabies must improve, just as the home side would.
“There’s always room for improvement; there’s always room for growth in our squad and our team and as a whole organisation,” Kerevi said.
“We’re just striving for that perfection and we’re still slowly moving forward and trying to build every day.”