Even Richie McCaw is saying he hopes for a closer match but the Wallabies remain stubborn amid overwhelming opinion that they can’t beat the All Blacks on Saturday.
Michael Cheika’s embattled team go into the clash at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium as the biggest outsiders in Bledisloe Cup history.
Winless in New Zealand since 2001, all signs point to another Bledisloe bloodbath as Australia attempt to rebound from their heaviest-ever loss on home soil to the All Blacks in Sydney last weekend.
So bad was that defeat that recently-retired All Blacks captain McCaw has told The Guardian: “I hope that it is a bit closer, because you don’t want to see big one-sided results for the top teams.
“I don’t think that’s healthy for Southern Hemisphere rugby, or for world rugby.”
No Australian team in the professional era has been so widely written off, with gallant defeat seemingly the best they can hope for against the world champions, who stand to lift the Bledisloe Cup for a 14th consecutive year with another win.
Bookmakers have New Zealand as unbackable favourites at $1.07 with Australia at a wild $9.00 to dodge a sixth Test defeat in a row.
Just don’t tell Wallabies skipper Stephen Moore they can’t do it.
“I wouldn’t even give that an answer, mate,” Moore said when informed of the tone of public opinion.
“I’m not going to forecast anything. I just think we need to play better than last week.”
At least McCaw back the Wallabies’ fighting spirit to ensure that.
“I reckon it’ll be closer,” he said. “Aussies don’t lie down. But I can still see the All Blacks winning. They’ve got too much firepower.”
The Wallabies were due to train at Westpac Stadium on Friday but instead had an early run at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua, away from prying eyes and cameras – perhaps a sign they do indeed have something up their sleeve.
Certainly a somewhat different Australian side will take the field with Quade Cooper restored as playmaker for his first match in months and Bernard Foley at inside centre among a handful of calculated selection gambles by Cheika.
Cheika has also recalled Scott Fardy to restore his first-choice back-row, a move All Blacks captain Kieran Read expects will boost the Australian lineout, which was comprehensively beaten in Sydney.
“We’ll keep looking to put as much pressure as we can. It is an area of strength of ours at the moment but they’ve certainly got quality players,” Read said.
Moore said every Wallabies player, including himself, was desperate to improve on last week’s effort.
“After a performance like that it really forces you to look hard at (yourself), probably more individually than collectively,” he said.
Weather conditions are expected to clear by Saturday night but there is a chance wind and rain could linger and present another challenge for the Wallabies – one Cheika reckons they can handle, if they come with the right attitude.
“(That) will not have any affect on the things that are important about winning this game. That’s the type of stuff you bring in any weather,” Cheika said.
BLEDISLOE CUP II – AT A GLANCE
Head to head: Played 156, New Zealand 107, Australia 42, draws 7
In Wellington: Played 19, New Zealand 12, Australia 6, draws 1
Last time in Wellington: New Zealand 27 def Australia 16, 24 August 2013, Westpac Stadium
Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Dane Haylett-Petty, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Adam Coleman, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Ala’alatoa, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, Tevita Kuridrani, Reece Hodge, Nick Phipps.
Coach: Michael Cheika
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Lienert-Brown, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: James Parsons, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Seta Tamanivalu.
Coach: Steve Hansen
Referee: Roman Poite (FRA)
Assistants: Jaco Peyper (RSA), Federico Anselmi (ARG)
Kick-off: 5.35pm AEST, Westpac Stadium, Wellington