Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of the first Bledisloe Cup international of the year between New Zealand and Australia. We’ll be underway in Wellington at 4pm local time (2pm AEDT).
Rarely can there have been a murkier build up to one of the showpiece events on the sporting calendar. Neither side has played a full international since the World Cup almost exactly a year ago, since when sport has been rocked by the Covid-19 pandemic leading to rugby authorities indulging in round after round of in-fighting over scheduling, quarantine, and finances. Considering all the bickering that has taken place it’s a wonder there’s a Bledisloe Cup to be contested at all this year.
That said, it’s as clear as mud what constitutes the 2020 Bledisloe Cup with two standalone fixtures in New Zealand (today and next Sunday in Auckland) preceding two Rugby Championship clashes in Australia. Communication has been desperately poor over recent weeks as details have been thrashed out behind the scenes and confirmation drip-fed to a bewildered public. Rugby Australia boss Hamish McLennan has only been in the hotseat a few months but already has the experience to declare relations with New Zealand Rugby to be at their “lowest ebb”. This is not ideal for such a co-dependent rivalry.
Putting the off-field machinations to one side, there is no shortage of intrigue in the actual rugby itself. Both nations appointed new coaches many months ago at the start of a new World Cup cycle, and this will be their first opportunities to stamp their marks on their respective sides.
There are 16 uncapped players in Dave Rennie’s first training squad with just six of the 44-strong group aged over 28. The former Chiefs mentor has been tasked with reinventing the Wallabies, and his first international season looks likely to be one full of experimentation. However, one constant remains, captain Michael Hooper, who will lead his side out today in his 100th appearance in green and gold.
By contrast, the All Blacks approach is one of continuity. Ian Foster, formerly assistant to Steve Hansen, is now in the club suit, and he’s backing a familiar group to recover from a chastening defeat to England at the semi-final stage last year in Japan.
For Foster and the All Blacks the next fortnight carries plenty of expectation. Not only will the frustration of that defeat to England need blowing away, the animosity behind the scenes with Australia has created palpable tension between the near neighbours. In front of sizeable crowds baying for blood the heavily fancied New Zealand outfit will not only need to win, but put on a show.