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All Blacks and the Wallabies will meet in a Bledisloe Cup Test which holds more importance than its so called “dead rubber” status implies.
New Zealand locked away the trophy for the 16th straight year when it won the first two Tests against Australia, making Saturday’s Test in Yokohama (5pm kickoff AEDT) irrelevant to the series.
But other imperatives have come into play, not least the function of the match in measuring the teams’ respective states of readiness 11 months from the start of the World Cup in Japan.
The All Blacks are clearly in a strong position as reigning champions and as the world’s top ranked team, having won all but one of their nine Tests this season.
The All Blacks haven’t been in vintage form but have had to contend with serious injuries which have allowed them to exhibit and increase the depth that underpins their top ranking.
It’s been confirmed the third Bledisloe Cup match between New Zealand and Australia this year will be played in Japan in October.
The Japan Rugby Football Union and New Zealand Rugby confirmed in a joint statement this evening that the match will be played at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Saturday October 27.
It’ll be the second Bledisloe Cup match to be played in Japan. The two teams played at the National Stadium in Tokyo in 2009.
Both the Bledisloe Cup match and the All Blacks Test against Japan the following weekend, Saturday November 3, at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo, will be played at key Rugby World Cup 2019 venues.
The All Blacks play their opening tournament match against South Africa in Yokohama – which is also the venue for the semifinals and final – and their match against Africa 1 in Tokyo.
Yokohama hosted the football World Cup final in 2002.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who is in Japan on a RWC2019 planning visit, said the All Blacks’ two Tests in Japan would give the team ideal preparation ahead of next year’s tournament.
“It will be great for the team to prepare in two of the Rugby World Cup cities and play at the same venues,” Hansen said.
“As well as preparing for a huge Bledisloe Cup Test and another important Test against Japan, it’ll also give the team a chance to have a really good ‘dummy run’ of the facilities, and experience the unique Japanese culture. We look forward to again being hosted by the Japanese later in the year,” he said.
The first Bledisloe Cup Test, and opening Rugby Championship Test, will be played in Sydney on August 18, with the return match a week later at Eden Park on Saturday August 25.
Conversely, the Wallabies are approaching the World Cup in a weakened state, having won only two of nine Tests this season and having dropped to No 7, their lowest ever world ranking.
Their lack of depth at times has been cruelly exposed and they have had to cope with a chorus of criticism over the performance of abrasive coach Michael Cheika.
The All Blacks won the previous Tests between the teams this season 38-13 and 40-12 but were less impressive in more recent Tests against South Africa, losing the first by two points and winning the second by the same margin against the Springboks.
They had to come from behind to do so, just as the Wallabies had to come from behind in their most recent Test to avoid back to back losses to Argentina.
The All Blacks are expected to win in Yokohama as preparation for challenges next month when they play England and Ireland.
However, coach Steve Hansen has counselled caution, arguing the Wallabies will likely be energised by their remarkable win over the Pumas.
“As a group of people Aussies have a lot of self confidence and I would rather have that than a weakness which allows you to self doubt,” Hansen said.
“They can lose five, six, seven games in a row and come out and beat the best team in the world because they believe they can.
ALL BLACKS: Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read (c), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody
Reserves: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Matt Todd, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Anton Lienert-Brown
WALLABIES: Dane Haylett-Petty, Sefa Naivalu, Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper (c), Ned Hanigan, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, Scott Sio
Reserves: Tolu Latu, Sekope Kepu, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Jack Dempsey, Nick Phipps, Samu Kerevi, Tom Banks
Referee: Romain Poite (FRA)