The big change the All Blacks have made for the Bledisloe Cup series
The Wallabies may have given the All Blacks an almighty fright in the opening test of last year’s Bledisloe Cup campaign, but don’t expect the Kiwis to give the Australians as much of a chance for an upset this time round.
Speaking to media on Monday, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said his side have learned from their shortcomings in last year’s 16-all draw with the Wallabies ahead of their Bledisloe Cup re-match in Auckland this weekend.
Although the All Blacks went on to reclaim the coveted piece of silverware for an 18th straight season across the following three matches, their failure to secure victory at Sky Stadium last October came as a significant surprise.
However, according to Foster, the All Blacks will be better for that experience as they aim for a more clinical performance at Eden Park.
“We’ve got a little bit of a history of starting slow in a year and it happened again last year,” Foster said five days out from the first of this year’s three Bledisloe Cup matches.
“It’s something the All Blacks have tried to fix for decades and never quite got it right, but, at the end of the day, they played well in Wellington and it was one of those games that it was wet, it was windy, both teams were up.
“We didn’t take opportunities, particularly before half-time to maybe put the game away, so what did we learn?
“You’ve got to be fierce and relentless in every moment, and if you don’t take our opportunities, then the game becomes a bit of a bunfight, and that’s what Wellington taught us.
“We’ve worked through that a little bit in the Steinlager Series. We’ve been able to talk about how we have to get into test matches, we’ve got to take opportunities early, and so that’s our cunning plan.”
As he alluded to, last month’s tests against Tonga and Fiji have provided Foster with a chance to fine tune how exactly the All Blacks go about producing a more effective performance in their first-up clash against the Wallabies.
Likewise, though, the Wallabies were afforded the opportunity to figure out where they are at in their three matches against France throughout July.
The Australians emerged victorious in a tightly-contested series that saw the Wallabies clinch their first series victory on home soil since 2014.
“Hindsight is 20-20, but when the Lions look back on the test, they might regret not playing a bolder game to win the series with one up their sleeve.”
– @bensmithrugby on the Lions’ game in the 2nd test. #RSAvBIL #LionsRugby #Springboks https://t.co/UWdSwlU946
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 1, 2021
As a result, confidence is brimming within Dave Rennie’s squad, and Foster has taken note of their exploits across the ditch.
“You go through a tight series where all three tests just about played out the same way, didn’t they? All went down to the last two minutes, so they would have learned a lot from that and taken some confidence from that.
“The flip side of it for us is we knew who we were playing, so we’re able to plan our programme around that, and so it was a matter of us trying some things within that campaign and making sure we grew our game, albeit in a slightly different situation.
“Either way, the good thing is that this year we’ve both had some games together. Last year, we both came in cold.
“This time, we’ve both had a chance to prepare and it just means we are where we are and both teams should be pretty happy with their prep.”
Tactically, Foster is anticipating a fast-paced approach from the Wallabies, who he said have made an effort to become more of a threat in the collision area of the game.
“There’s a lot of stuff they did last year I see them still working hard on. They’re still trying to be physical, they’re trying to be confrontational,” he said.
“There’s certainly a desire to get involved around the ball and create a bit of a mess in that space. That hasn’t changed.
“At times it was almost difficult to tell when the referee had stopped play and when normal business had resumed, such was the stodginess of the rugby.” #Springboks #LionsRugby #RSAvBILhttps://t.co/lXaQs62WPQ
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 1, 2021
“They’re a ball-in-hand team, primarily, and that hasn’t changed. It looked like they were trying to do a little bit more in counter-attack and get involved in that space.
“It’s just a good Australian team based on a skill-based game and a fast ruck-and-run game.”
Regardless of how either team head into their first encounter of the year, Foster said there is no shortage of motivation within the All Blacks camp as they aim to extend their Bledisloe Cup dominance for a 19th consecutive year.
“We’ve always said, outside of a World Cup, we kind of see this as being our most important trophy.
“We’re incredibly excited about this one. The chance to be at Eden Park, it’s against Australia, it’s a trophy that we’re both desperate to win, and there’s always a massive edge in this game.
“In terms of preparation, you can feel the edge already in the group. They know they’re going into a big test week and they know we’ve got to be at the top of our game to get the result we want.
“We learned that last year as we were slightly off the mark, and these guys are a really good rugby team. They’re improving, and if we give them a sniff, then it’s going to be a hard night.”
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