SYDNEY (Reuters) ¬ The Wallabies have a chance to lift some of the gloom hanging over Australian rugby tomorrow but to do so they will have to achieve the considerable feat of upsetting the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship opener.
A miserable Super Rugby campaign, during which none of the country’s five teams were able to beat New Zealand opponents in 26 attempts, was accompanied by the bitter and protracted effort to shut down the Western Force.
While that public relations disaster of a saga rumbled on, though, Michael Cheika has had his players in a training camp for a month, plotting to take down the world champions in the first of three Bledisloe Cup tests this year.
That lengthy preparation time and the talent at Cheika’s disposal makes the Wallabies a “dangerous beast”, said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen yesterday.
“The third thing that makes them really dangerous is their desire to try to help Australian rugby and at the moment it has a bit of a cloud over it,” Hansen told reporters. “They haven’t won the Bledisloe in a long time and they’re pretty hungry for it so, as a team, we have to be hungrier than them, otherwise we’re at a disadvantage.”
Australia have not held the trophy that symbolises tran-Tasman Sea rugby supremacy since 2002 and the bookmakers do not share Hansen’s caution, making the All Blacks 1-10 favourites to win at the Olympic Stadium tomorrow.
Moreover, New Zealand begin the defence of their southern hemisphere championship title feeling they have a point to prove after losing a test at home for the first time in eight years during the drawn British and Irish Lions series in June.
Hansen has summoned the latest explosive back off the New Zealand production line by awarding Damian McKenzie the start at fullback and slotted the rugged Liam Squire into his back row to give Jerome Kaino a rest.
Sonny Bill Williams is back in the centres after serving his four-match ban for the red card he was shown during the Lions series and he will line up opposite Kurtley Beale, who plays his first test since the 2015 World Cup final.
That run to the world title decider at Twickenham is now a distant memory for Australian rugby fans, who have had to get used to regular losses in the intervening two years, including a home defeat to Scotland in June.
It was a Sydney victory over the All Blacks in the truncated Rugby Championship of 2015 that really sparked the run, however, and Cheika knows exactly the kind of effort that will be required to replicate it on Saturday.
“I just want to see them enjoying the battle,” Cheika said.
“It’s gonna be a big battle. Just that 100 percent commitment to each play, be decisive and the rest will flow from there.
“We’ve worked very hard on our team work. And that camaraderie is going to be needed to pull off what most people believe will be a very, very difficult task.”