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'It's good to get a taste off that': All Blacks under the radar in Melbourne

By Sam Smith
Jordie Barrett and Scott Barrett. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Rugby Championship may be about to enter its final weeks but in sports-mad Melbourne, there’s something else on the minds of the city’s residents.

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There are just three matches left to play in this year’s AFL, with Geelong, Brisbane, Sydney and Collingwood set to contest the title over the coming two weekends of action – and that means many a Melbournite’s focus is firmly on rugby’s rival code.

It’s unusual for the All Blacks to play second-fiddle on the sporting calendar, but that’s exactly the situation they find themselves in ahead of the first Bledisloe Cup clash of the year, with the match taking place next Thursday so as not to compete with the AFL preliminary finals.

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The All Blacks are in no way fazed by the situation they’ve found themselves in, however; there’s too much at stake at Marvel Stadium next week.

“I don’t think it makes a difference to us in the way we want to prepare, to be honest, whether everyone’s talking about us out there or not,” said New Zealand fullback Jordie Barrett two days after touching down in Melbourne.

“We’ve got a job to do. We need to prepare accordingly and there’s an Australian side that hasn’t had a taste of the Bledisloe in a long time. If we’re any short of our mark in terms of our preparation, we just open ourselves up so we’re going to nail each day this week.”

With the Aussie Rules fever gripping the city, it would have been a shame for the visiting All Blacks to not get a taste of the action – and a number of players were lucky enough to be in attendance for the Brisbane Lions’ win over the Melbourne Demons at the MCG.

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“It was cool understanding a different game,” Barrett said of the match.

“It’s quite physical and they’ve got such high skill sets. It’s quite interesting to watch as an outside back who loves kicking and catching so I enjoyed it.

“It’s an interesting concept to grasp, a whole city that’s just so mad on one sport.

“It’s good to get a taste off that and get out in the environment and come back fresh today and prepare for the Australians.”

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While 90,000 fans will likely converge on the MCG once more over back-to-back weekends, just short of 60,000 will be on hand for Thursday’s Bledisloe Cup fixture – a match that Barrett believes will present a different challenge to the clashes the All Blacks have undertaken with South Africa and Argentina in the Rugby Championship to date.

“[It will be] very different,” he said. “That’s the nature of the Rugby Championship, you’ve got to prepare, learn quickly, perform and then roll on to another international team.

“The teams that can adapt and learn the quickest and execute in the weekend go the best so yeah we’re learning a little bit. It’s only the start of the week so we’ll learn a lot more as the week goes on.”

The Thursday night kick-off might be an unusual one but it also provides the All Blacks with an opportunity to get back into their work and after an unfortunately timed break in the competition – right when NZ were starting to find some momentum following a 50-point hiding of the Pumas in Hamilton.

“It’s always nice having a break but after the nature of our season and we’ve just come off a good win, you just want to get back on the horse and keep the ball rolling,” Barrett said. “It was a nice couple of days off but there’s a lot of excitement in this group and we’re facing a fresh beast in Australia this week who are going to present something different to Argie and South Africa.

“We’ve got a Bledisloe to win so we’ve freshened up, had a few days off and we’ve got an Aussie side that’s hurting after their loss to South Africa so there’s a great feeling in camp at the moment.”

Thursday’s match will kick off at 7:45pm AEST.

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