Is Australia Ready To Take Bledisloe Cup Back From New Zealand?
A generation of Australian men’s rugby hasn’t seen its national team lift one of its most hallowed trophies. Are the Wallabies ready to take it back?
A generation of Australian men’s rugby hasn’t seen its national team lift one of its most hallowed trophies yet in their lives.
The Bledisloe Cup – the Wallabies’ annual cup competition between their noisy neighbors across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand – used to be a relatively back-and-forth event that saw Australia pick a few titles off of its adversary throughout the years. However, since the Wallabies last lifted the cup in 2002, all they’ve known in the rivalry is misery.
2022 Australia vs New Zealand All Blacks – Bledisloe Cup, Game 1
As the All Blacks rocketed their way to superstardom and worldwide recognition across much of the 21st century, Australia, while still a very talented top-tier rugby nation, never was able to upend the world-beating Kiwis for much of it.
Two decades since its last cup triumph, a golden opportunity has risen for Australia to take charge once again.
The stakes always are high in the Bledisloe Cup, of course, but with the added implication that the winner very well could bring home a Rugby Championship title, too – New Zealand holds a one-point lead over second-place Australia in the competition’s current table – there’s a lot more on the line than just pride in the South Pacific this month.
Here’s a look at what to expect from the Wallabies as they kick off the 2022 edition of the Bledisloe Cup later this month on their home turf in Melbourne, with both matches on the schedule slated to be streamed live on FloRugby.
Wallabies Cup Woes
Since 2002, Australia’s national men’s rugby team has twice been the runner-up at a Rugby World Cup, won two Tri Nations/Rugby Championship titles and been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world on multiple occasions.
What the Wallabies haven’t done in that time frame, however, is finally get a Bledisloe Cup over their Trans-Tasman rivals.
The All Blacks have won every iteration of the annual rivalry over the past two decades, a reign of dominance from New Zealand that included 10 consecutive wins over Australia in all competitions from 2008-2010.
Even in recent years, the All Blacks have been steady performers in the showdown, pulling off at least one 35-point win over the Wallabies in each of the past three years to ensure that any Australian dreams of lifting the trophy are quickly dashed, usually before they can even really get off of the ground in the first place.
However, there are some unusual factors at play.
The All Blacks are in the midst of a historic slump of six defeats in nine matches, dropping games against the likes of Ireland and Argentina in New Zealand for the very first time in that stretch.
It’s the national team’s worst nine-game stretch since 1970 (and even that was marginally better, with three wins and a draw to go with five defeats), with the All Blacks going from having never slipped below third in the World Rugby Rankings prior to this year to slipping to as low as fifth – and currently fourth – in this year’s Rugby Championship.
Though Australia has some of its own issues to sort out, there possibly hasn’t been a better chance in literal decades for the Wallabies to take advantage of New Zealand’s misfortunes and bring the Bledisloe Cup back to the Land Down Under.
A Need Of Steady Rugby
Speaking of issues to sort out, what arguably has been the main one for Australian rugby over the past year? Without a doubt, it’s consistency.
With no consecutive wins since October of last year, the Wallabies have had the look of world-beaters in some tests, while simultaneously disjointed and without a bite to their game in others.
Some of that has been due to injuries and other squad absences – captain Michael Hooper, for example, hasn’t played in this edition of The Rugby Championship, as he opted to take a break to focus on his mental health – but some of Australia’s most impressive performances in recent memory have come when coach Dave Rennie’s squad was severely short-handed.
The stunning 25-17 victory over South Africa last month in Adelaide immediately springs to mind, for instance.
Still, that recurring issue of showing out sometimes and falling flat other times probably couldn’t have had worse timing than in this year’s Rugby Championship, as for the first time since Argentina joined the competition (2012), all four teams sit at an equal 2-2 record after four tests.
The Wallabies are obviously still very much in the mix to come out on top in the tournament for the first time since 2015, but in order to do it they almost certainly have to take the Bledisloe Cup off New Zealand’s hands, too – something that, as already mentioned, has been an achievement out of Australia’s reach for the past two decades.
Odds aren’t terrific for the Wallabies to pull off the Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Cup double for the first time since 2001, as Australia likely will need to rattle off two consecutive victories over New Zealand to simultaneously clinch both titles, especially considering that South Africa easily could notch two wins itself over Argentina in the Rugby Championship’s other remaining mini-tour.
Notably, 2001 also was the last time Australia won consecutive tests against New Zealand in an eerily-similar scenario to this year. Perhaps the stars are aligning for a repeat.
Rising Stars, Old Friends
A massive reason behind how Australia has managed to find itself playing for a Rugby Championship title this year, despite heavy squad rotation and swapping, is that some emerging talents have suddenly risen up to take big roles in big games.
In a fixture such as New Zealand-Australia, in which legends are made on the regular, those players’ resumes could be taken to all-new heights.
For example, Queensland Reds flanker Fraser McReight mainly was brought into the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship squad on the back of strong performances with the Australia “A” team in July’s Pacific Nations Cup in Fiji.
When Hooper made himself inactive and the senior team scrambled for an outside flanker to take his place, Rennie found the 23-year-old and has rode his coattails to a Rugby Championship-high three tries thus far, including a double in the win over the Springboks.
Throw in some other capable outings across the squad from the likes of newcomers like lock Jed Holloway and veteran presences like winger Marika Koroibete, and Australia is a bit of a discombobulated unit – but one that’s also very, very dangerous against any team it plays against.
Nonetheless, the absences keep piling up for Australia, as fly-half Noah Lolesio and center Hunter Paisami both are doubtful for the first Bledisloe Cup match Sept. 15 in Melbourne after each suffered a concussion in the 24-8 defeat to the Boks in Sydney, while starting lock Rory Arnold is expecting the birth of his child and wasn’t included in the squad for the New Zealand tests.
That’s where some of the Wallabies’ old names of times past come in: Bernard Foley, a former World Cup star who hasn’t suited up for the team in three years, could be Lolesio’s replacement if he can’t go, while back Kurtley Beale returned to the squad for the first time this year after last playing in the 2021 end-of-year tests against England.