It’s the big gamble that could be giving Australian rugby fans false hope that the Wallabies can finally win back the Bledisloe Cup.
Coach Michael Cheika’s call to bring back France-based trio Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau and Will Genia for the Rugby Championship gives the Wallabies’ starting XV a 145-Test match advantage in experience over their All Blacks’ counterparts for the series opener at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
Equally, though, few players have endured more heartache at the hands of New Zealand’s world champions than the veteran backline trio.
Winger Ashley-Cooper will surpass David Campese as Australia’s most-capped Bledisloe Cup combatant when he makes his 30th appearance against the All Blacks on Saturday night.
But with 22 defeats, the backline utility ace has also suffered more trans-Tasman torment than any player in Australian rugby history.
With 19 losses – and, like Ashley-Cooper, just five wins – against the All Blacks, 33-year-old inside centre Giteau also carries the psychological scarring of more than a decade of Bledisloe Cup beatings from Australia’s greatest rivals.
Halfback Genia’s strike rate is even more alarming, two wins from 17 matches against the back-to-back World Cup winners.
Like Giteau, skipper Stephen Moore has also won only five of his 24 Tests against the All Blacks.
Little wonder Moore admitted it was appropriate that assistant coach Stephen Larkham chose to have Hunters and Collectors’ song Holy Grail blaring out of the sound system at the captain’s run at ANZ Stadium on Friday.
“I guess it’s pretty relevant to tomorrow night. It’s something we haven’t been able to achieve for a very long time,” Moore said.
Not surprisingly, no member of the Wallabies’ 23-man match-day squad has ever had their hands on the Bledisloe Cup, which Australia lost in 2003 and has not held since.
Cheika, though, is confident he has assembled a group ready to challenge for trans-Tasman supremacy and they will push the All Blacks to the wire on Saturday night.
“Whatever the challenge is, I’ll always believe in the lads,” said Cheika.
“So far we’ve been able to put together, in the time we’ve had together – 18 months or so in our coaching time – a really strong connection around hard work.
“We’re building our belief. We understand we’ve got a long way to go around having that mental toughness that’s required to go in day in and day out and do the job.
“But I trust them to go into this contest knowing that they’re going to take the world’s best right to the line.”
It’s not only the current crop who have suffered at the hands of the All Blacks.
Some of Australia’s greatest modern-day players have grim records against the southern hemisphere super powers.
George Smith won only seven of his 24 Tests against the All Blacks, a strike rate of 29 per cent, the same as fellow former captain Stirling Mortlock (five win from 17 matches), while Campese only managed 10 wins in 29 Tests.
Two-time World Cup winners Phil Kearns (56 per cent), John Eales (55 per cent) and Jason Little (53 per cent) are the only greats in the 20-year professional era to boast winning records over more than 15-Test careers against New Zealand.
WALLABIES WITH MOST LOSSES AGAINST ALL BLACKS IN PROFESSIONAL RUGBY
*Adam Ashley-Cooper: 29 matches, 5 wins, 2 draws, 22 losses = 24 per cent winning strike rate
Nathan Sharp: 27 matches, 6 wins, 1 draw, 20 losses = 26 per cent
*Matt Giteau: 24 matches, 5 wins, 19 losses = 21 per cent
*Stephen Moore: 24 matches 5 wins, 19 losses = 21 per cent
David Campese: 29 matches, 10 wins, 1 draw, 18 losses = 34 per cent
George Smith: 24 matches, 7 wins, 17 losses = 29 per cent
*Will Genia: 17 matches, 2 wins, 15 losses = 12 per cent
George Gregan: 27 matches, 12 wins, 15 losses = 44 per cent
Rocky Elsom: 18 matches, 4 wins, 14 losses = 22 per cent
Benn Robinson: 17 matches, 2 wins, 1 draw, 14 losses = 15 per cent
(*denotes in Wallabies side playing the All Blacks on Saturday night)