Massive winning and losing streaks are at stake when the Wallabies take on the All Blacks who are at Winx-like odds to win.
Talk is cheap. Wallabies captain Michael Hooper knows it.
And after a week of Australia and the All Blacks deflecting the pressure of winning Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup rematch onto each other, with losing and winning streaks at stake, Hooper knows it’s just bluster.
It’s the rumble that counts, and the second successive showdown at Eden Park will be a rumble if both teams have their way.
Selection has made that clear for the Wallabies. Hard nut Lachie Swinton has been thrust back into the showdown to add “edge” to his team.
Both Hooper and coach Dave Rennie have said Swinton, who has a Bledisloe Cup red card on his resume, won’t be told to curtail the sort of physicality that has earned the backrower a reputation that now precedes him
“He’ll be bringing what he knows,” Hooper said of Swinton on Friday.
There’s a bloke in a black jersey who always brings what he knows too, and when Brodie Retallick floored Hooper with a clean-out last week, and with the hulking All Blacks lock getting his first shot at the Wallabies for two years, the Australian captain knew where he was.
“He got me good,” Hooper conceded of the snarly Retallick hit.
“I said to him out there, ‘I didn’t miss playing you’. That’s Test match footy, there’s a lot of that stuff.
That is Test match footy where what you do, and don’t do, really matters.
Not midweek one-liners about auras being over and “you don’t want to be to the first All Blacks team to lose at Eden Park”.
“We do respect New Zealand and the All Blacks, but we don‘t fear them,” Hooper said, succinctly wrapping up all the to-and-fro banter with his team’s approach to taking on their greatest rival.
“We’re going out there to impose our game on these guys … and I can’t wait to get out there on the field.
“The stuff we‘ve been talking about is leaving a mark.”
All Blacks coach Ian Foster did his best to deflect the “pressure talk”.
But he did it with a scoff – his team are $1.06 TAB favourites to win – more than a desire to fuel any flames.
“They’ve said that they want to take us on a bit more, so that’s the response we’d expect out of them and pretty intrigued that they’re trying to pile pressure on us,“ he said.
“But it’s a Bledisloe Cup series, they’re one-nil down.
“I’m pretty sure there’s a bit of pressure on them too. We want to win it.”
But he’s also fully aware of the talk that the Wallabies want to be “in their face”, knowing a fully committed, fully physical, full-game performance is their only hope of ending that 35-year Eden Park hoodoo and staying alive in the race to get hold of the Bledisloe Cup.
“Clearly, they’re going to try and be more aggressive,” Foster said as both camps named their Test sides on Thursday.
“We‘re going to get a more committed Australia team and we need to make sure we’re matching fire with fire.”
Hooper said Wallabies fly half Noah Lolesio, criticised for a kicking game last week he’d rather forget, was carrying no scars into game two.
“The guy is super confident,” he said.
“He’s been growing as a player. All good number 10s will have that game in their career. To have a game like that is only going to reaffirm the stuff it takes for him to be a batter player.”
Back from suspension, star winger Marika Koroibete is “chomping at the bit” to repay his teammates for his boozing no-no, and the Eden Park aura, with crowds set to be down for the match that was originally scheduled for Wellington, is a non-issue.
“Yes, you notice that stuff, you sing the anthems and you hear the build-up, but when the ball is kicked, it’s rugby,” Hooper said.
“We are hoping to not have that as a factor.
“I know what we feel in here, we want to play our best game. We are focusing on the stuff that will make that happen.”
Australia v New Zealand
Eden Park, Auckland, 5:05pm Saturday August 14.
(1-15): James Slipper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Matt Philip, Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper, Rob Valetini, Tate McDermott, Noah Lolesio, Marika Koroibete, Matt To’omua, Hunter Paisami, Andrew Kellaway, Tom Banks.
Bench: Jordan Uelese, Scott Sio, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Harry Wilson, Nic White, Len Ikitau, Reece Hodge.
(1-15): George Bower, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock (c), Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Sevu Reece, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan, Damian McKenzie.
Bench: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett.