The Wallabies will miss seeing their fans in the Eden Park stands but the “love” they are feeling from home will inspire them in the second Bledisloe Cup test.
Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper skilfully side-stepped questions around Australia’s inability to beat the All Blacks at Eden Park for 34 years but could not help noting the impact COVID-19 restrictions will have on the event.
Normally, amid a sea of black the Aussies would see pockets of green and gold.
This year, with Australians unable to travel across the Tasman, the Wallabies will be relying on a small contingent of New Zealand-based fans.
Hooper was impressed with the way supporters responded to the team’s encouraging performance in last week’s 16-16 draw in Wellington and felt that support would be invaluable on Sunday in Auckland.
“We’ve been so appreciative of all the support we’ve had through the past couple of weeks,” Hooper said.
“From the belief inside RA (Rugby Australia) and all the way through the fans and public. We’re feeling it. Even though we’ll be quite outnumbered in the stadium … we’re feeling the love and looking forward to some more footy.”
The fact the Wallabies are playing at Eden Park is another privilege, Hooper said.
Auckland only came out of COVID-19 restrictions 10 days ago and until then there had been a chance this test could have been moved south to Dunedin.
“We feel great about the opportunity it presents us. It wasn’t a certainty even two weeks ago that we’d be here playing this game and I’m thankful we are,” Hooper said.
“It’s pretty special to play any test. The Kiwis have been the benchmark for so long, they’re an outstanding team and we get the challenge to play them at their home.”
Rieko Ioane may not get an immediate chance to make amends for his blunder in the first Bledisloe Cup test, with his status in doubt for the clash against Australia at Eden Park tomorrow. #BledisloeCup #NZLvAUS #AllBlacks https://t.co/k2FoUx7ZMJ
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 17, 2020
Hooper played down talk of increased niggle following the questions raised during the week about apparent targeting of All Blacks first five Richie Mo’unga.
“That’s part of most test matches, it’s just that it’s been brought to attention,” Australia’s captain said.
“It’s pretty constant in these fixtures and we’re thinking it’ll be more of the same tomorrow.”
While happy with the Wallabies’ performance in Wellington, Hooper noted the importance of controlling the breakdown, particularly on attack.
The Wallabies were penalised numerous times when taking the ball into the tackle, diluting their winning chances.
“We were disappointed we couldn’t get the win there last week. We turned over a bit of ball at the breakdown, particularly when we were attacking in their zone,” he said.
“We want to hold on to the ball, recycle and get it to the players who can make some serious dents, some serious plays.”
The injection of Ned Hanigan at blindside flanker is likely to help.
“Ned is very vocal on the field and has good breakdown presence and a good work-rate,” Hooper said.
He also noted that both sides went into the first Test unsure what a pair of new coaches , a new All Blacks skipper and a bunch of fresh faces would bring.
“Now we have an idea of what to expect,” Hooper said. “We’re cool and pretty calm, but I’d like the game to come around pretty quick.”
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