Nine Wallabies in the starting line-up for the Bledisloe Cup opener have played less than 10 Tests, but that could be an advantage in one area for Australia.
Having to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand is hard enough for any team, any time, not just the Wallabies.
But having to beat a 35-year Eden Park hoodoo as well, in the Bledisloe Cup opener, is the sort of herculean task Wallabies captain Michael Hooper is trying to convince his youthful teammates to get “excited” about.
“It’s a normal field, believe it or not,” Hooper said two days out from taking to the Kiwi cauldron where a World Cup win, against Wales, in 2011 was Australia’s only victory in 22 visits since 1986.
“And we can’t wait to get there and we have two cracks at it this time.”
Two cracks, two weeks in a row, at a venue where the Wallabies have been crushed 103-19 in the past three games, where the All Blacks have won 20 straight against Australia. The Wallabies also lost to Ireland in Auckland in the 2011 World Cup.
Australia is cursed with back-to-back visits to Eden Park by, of all things, a beer festival in Wellington. The last time Australia played the All Blacks at Wellington they mustered a monumental 16-16 draw.
But at Eden Park the next week, any talk of Bledisloe momentum swinging the way of the Wallabies was answered by a 27-7 loss to the home team.
The Wallabies even avoided Eden Park for their match-eve training session, instead running around Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland’s south.
Wallabies veteran Matt To’omua was part of the team thrashed 36-0 at Eden Park in 2019 and thought, hopefully, the young group taken across the ditch by Wallabies coach Dave Rennie didn’t carry the “scars” of those who have been there before them.
It was an idea Hooper latched on to, with nine Wallaby starters boasting less than 10 Test caps.
“It’s probably a fair assessment. What wouldn’t be smart is to put what everyone else says about Eden Park on to them,” Hooper said.
“Let them feel the way they want to feel about it and if that’s all positive, then happy days.
“It’s great to have that youthful sort of a feeling, that ‘I just want to play rugby’ feeling, and that’s what a lot of our guys have. They want to get out there and show what they have on this stage.
“I’m sure they will take that approach.”
Starting fly half Noah Lolesio is one of those playing at Eden Park for the first time in just his sixth Test.
He played every minute of all three Tests against France and was crucial in every one of them, including the last-gasp, series-sealing win in game three.
Taking on the All Blacks is another step up, but Rennie had no issue backing him in again.
“He’s started the last three Tests, he’s got better we believe,” Rennie said.
“His kicking has been exemplary, so we’re more than happy to put him out there again.
“He’s only a young man but he’s making really big strides.
“He’s trying to grow his game management and working hard in that area and the skill sets around that.”
Beyond Lolesio, Rennie liked what he saw in all three Tests against France, beyond game skills and team structures, and hoped that carried on against the All Blacks.
“We’ve played with a lot of courage (against France), we’ve had our backs to the wall a couple of times, found a way to win,” he said.
“That’s really important against an All Blacks side. You’ve got to be prepared to go for 80 minutes. There has been many a side that’s been in the race for 60 and the All Blacks have blown them away.
“We think we’re a team Wallabies fans and Australians want to get behind, but we’ve got to give them performances to make them believers, and there’s no better place for that than Eden Park.”
WALLABIES v ALL BLACKS
Eden Park, Auckland
Saturday August 7, 5:05pm AEST
WALLABIES (15-1): Tom Banks, Jordan Petaia, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Andrew Kellaway, Noah Lolesio, Tate McDermott, Harry Wilson, Michael Hooper (capt), Rob Valetini, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Darcy Swain, Allan Ala‘alatoa, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, James Slipper.
Replacements: Jordan Uelese, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Matt Philip, Fraser McReight, Jake Gordon, Matt To’omua, Reece Hodge.
ALL BLACKS (15-1): Damian McKePnzie, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Richie Mo‘unga, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Sam Whitelock (capt), Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, George Bower.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett.