Wallabies brace themselves for chief tormentor
SPOTLIGHT: Beauden Barrett and Eden Park hold no fears for the Wallabies as they bid to bust a 34-year hoodoo and blow the 2020 Bledisloe Cup series wide open on Sunday.
It’s been documented hundreds of times that the Wallabies haven’t won at New Zealand’s rugby fortress since 1986 and breaking the drought with Barrett back on deck only decreases the chances of a boilover.
The blistering fullback/flyhalf has been Australia’s chief tormentor in recent years, bobbing up seemingly on cue to break Wallabies hearts over and over with his mesmerising attack and deadly boot.
Barrett was a late scratching from last Sunday’s thrilling 16-16 draw in Wellington with an achilles injury but is expected to be named on Friday by under-pressure coach Ian Foster.
Despite Damian McKenzie’s underwhelming display deputising for Barrett, Wallabies forwards coach Geoff Parling played down the likely return of the two-times World Player of the Year.
“He’s obviously a good player, but the other guys that are in there are good players so I wouldn’t make it more than what it is if he comes back in,” Parling said when asked how Australia’s forwards could help nullify Barrett’s influence in Auckland.
“He’ll be replacing someone else who is a very good player. In terms of forwards nullifying him, we can do our job up front and try to reduce the quality of ball he has can certainly help.”
Parling also scotched talk that Eden Park, where the All Blacks haven’t lost to anyone let alone to Australia since 1994, could be a daunting prospect for the Wallabies.
“It’s certainly not, no. It’s just a rugby pitch,” he said.
More importantly, the Wallabies need to improve at the set pieces, especially line-out time after failing to even contest the first few in Wellington.
Parling, though, defended Australia’s locks Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Matt Philip.
“Look, people are saying a couple of line-outs were lost, but they lost a couple as well,” Parling said.
“I was happy with them both. I thought they both played well. Certainly some of the carrying work in the tight, just from leg drive to get us over the gain line was pretty important.”
Both sides are backing up just seven days from an epic encounter that stretched almost 90 minutes and Parling said the challenge was as much mental as physical for the Wallabies.
“It depends on your mindset. If you tell yourself it’s tough, it’s going to be tough,” he said.
“But if you tell yourself you’re about to play New Zealand in Auckland, you should be OK.
“It’s the same for both teams. I wouldn’t read into things more than they are. We’ve played a hard Test match, some guys have played some long minutes, so have they.
“We’ll get guys fresh, make sure we recover and we’ll get prepped and go again.”