The Bledisloe Cup is back for 2014, as Australia and New Zealand face off over three Tests, with the famous trophy and Australasian blagging rights going up for grabs.
Saturday sees the first Test get underway at the ANZ Stadium, Sydney, with the hosts looking to end their recent, dismal record in the competition.
As Ruckin Good Stats revealed, the Wallabies haven’t won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002, with the All Blacks dominating proceedings since the turn of the Millennium:
All Blacks now won 11 consecutive Bledisloe Cup matches. Their record is between 1951 & 1978 when they won the cup on 12 consecutive times— Ruckin Good Stats (@ruckingoodstats) October 19, 2013
However, Australia come into Saturday's first Test in superb form, and as is the Aussies’ natural way of thinking—records are there to be broken.
Date: Saturday, August 16
Time: 11:05 a.m. BST/6:05 a.m. ET
Live Stream: Sky Go (U.K. only)
Something’s Got to Give in Sydney
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Such a question always comes to the surface whenever Australia and New Zealand lock horns on the rugby field.
The 2014 Bledisloe Cup is no different, as both the Wallabies and the All Blacks come into the competition in stellar form.
With Australia thrashing France 3-0 and New Zealand inflicting a similar whitewash on England in their most-recent fixtures, the stage is perfectly set for a fierce encounter at the ANZ.
However, both sides’ brilliance goes back further than that, with the hosts winning their last seven Tests in a row, but they have a rather different look to their outfit on the mission to make it eight.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has made six changes to the starting side that thrashed the French 39-13 back in June, with fly-half Kurtley Beale the biggest selection shock of them all.
Beale’s inclusion means that Bernard Foley will take to the bench—a decision that has got rugby’s brightest minds scratching their heads, including journalist Ben Coles:
Eyebrow-raiser from the Wallabies, with Kurtley Beale picked at 10 ahead of Bernard Foley to face New Zealand.— Ben Coles (@bencoles_) August 12, 2014
However, McKenzie himself revealed that he’s satisfied with the team that he’s chosen to try to dethrone the All Blacks, saying that he’s got the perfect personnel to accomplish their mission—per Georgina Robinson of Sydney Morning Herald:
We have to keep challenging ourselves, not only in selection but in how we're going to play the game and our attitude during the game. We have to go out there and try to take the game on. We're not out there to try to not lose, we're actually out there to try to win. We've made what some people might consider bold selections. I think they're good selections for what we want to do.
What they want to do is kick off their Bledisloe Cup campaign in the best-possible fashion with a win against New Zealand—something that’s a lot harder than it sounds.
While Australia will be looking to thrill the home crowd with a strong performance, the All Blacks also have a goal of their own to live up to.
As BBC Sport revealed, victory over their rivals on Saturday would give Steve Hansen’s side their 18th consecutive Test victory—surpassing the previous record of 17 set by South Africa in 1998 and themselves in 1969.
Hansen’s team selection has also come under the microscope ahead of Saturday’s meeting, with Ben Smith coming in at full-back over Israel Dagg.
Dagg has bean a mainstay in the All Blacks’ setup at No. 15 since making his Test debut in 2010, but Hansen believes that Smith just had that little extra bit of class—per BBC Sport’s report:
“While we have been very happy with Israel Dagg's performances at 15, Ben has come in and raised the bar to another level. The challenge for Israel now is to get his performances—when he gets the opportunity—to an even higher level."
Dagg may well have the opportunity to raise his game from the bench against Australia, but his services aren’t likely to be required with the All Blacks looking head and shoulders above every opponent.
While rugby neutrals will be hoping for an upset at the ANZ, consecutive Test victory No. 18 looks on the way for the All Blacks.