Bledisloe Cup a stepping stone to a bigger prize says Ian Foster
While the All Blacks have had a firm hold on the Bledisloe Cup for two decades now, there’s much more at stake when they take on the Wallabies in Melbourne next week, according to head coach Ian Foster.
A tough two-game series in South Africa to kick off New Zealand’s tournament coupled with some inconsistent form will see the All Blacks go into the Bledisloe Cup series knowing they can’t afford any slip-ups.
Currently, NZ sit atop the overall ladder on 10 competition points but they’re only one point ahead of their three rivals, Australia, South Africa and Argentina. If the All Blacks were to drop either of their remaining games against the Wallabies, it would open the door for either the Springboks or Pumas to grab the Rugby Championship title, while Australia could also get their noses ahead of NZ with a better return from their coming two fixtures.
“It’s a big series,” Foster said in Auckland ahead of the team’s flight to Melbourne. “We all know the state of the Rugby Championship; it’s a very even competition and every game matters. So going over there to Melbourne, a new location for a lot of us for a number of years, and we’re playing a pretty important game.”
As mentioned by Foster, it’s been a long time since the All Blacks last took the field in Victoria, with their last match against the Wallabies at Docklands Stadium taking place in 2010. At that point in time, Sam Whitelock was the only member of the current squad – including the coaching staff – who was a member of the team.
Earlier matches in Victoria used to be hosted at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the state as a whole has been relatively successful for Australia when it comes to Bledisloe Cup clashes, with the four matches played in Victoria being split two apiece. Foster, naturally, will be desperate to ensure the ledger reads in NZ’s favour following next week’s fixture.
“Right now we’re probably more fixated on the Rugby Championship,” said the coach when asked about the importance of the first Bledisloe fixture of the season. “All four teams have had a bit of inconsistency about how they’ve gone about it. It’s been a very even competition. That’s probably where our eyes are firmly fixed at the moment.”
With the AFL preliminary finals set to dominate interest in Victoria next weekend, the Bledisloe Cup clash will take place on Thursday night and is set to kick off at 7:45pm AEST. The All Blacks claimed victories in all three Bledisloe fixtures last year and have held onto the coveted Cup since reclaiming it off Australia in 2003.
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