All Blacks captain Sam Cane has had enough of the sinking feeling that comes with letting a rugby-mad nation down and blotting the team’s rich history book.
New Zealand has experienced unwanted firsts in 2022 – losing at home to Ireland and Argentina as part of an alarming downward trend in which the All Blacks have lost six of their last nine Tests and slipped to fourth in the world rankings.
Cane and coach Ian Foster both survived the fierce backlash from Kiwi supporters with the New Zealand Rugby board backing the duo through to next year’s Rugby World Cup.
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Their last outing was a 53-3 demolition of Argentina to fire the All Blacks to the top of a congested Rugby Championship ladder.
But a loss to the equally Jekyll and Hyde Wallabies in Melbourne on Thursday would rip open those wounds and the sight of Cane handing the Bledisloe Cup to James Slipper at Eden Park on September 24 is nigh on unthinkable after a two decade residence across the Tasman.
“Winning and losing are both strong motivators but in different ways,” Cane said at the All Blacks captain’s run at Lakeside Stadium on Wednesday.
“Yeah, there’s a fear of losing it, there’s the pressure, but you look at that in a positive spin too, it’s something that motivates us to make sure it’s not on our watch.
“At the moment the way we view it is no-one’s holding the trophy, when it comes up for grabs again each year it’s on the line. And this year both teams have a good chance of winning it, so it’s up to us to get out there and take it.”
In the reduced two-Test series, the Wallabies must win or draw at Marvel Stadium to keep their trophy hopes alive.
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Australian great Drew Mitchell told Stan Sport this month that the Wallabies had a rare opportunity to prey on some mental vulnerabilities.
”There are going to be some doubts with these All Blacks,” Mitchell said.
“They are under a helluva lot of pressure, media pressure, the expectations from themselves but also their fans. I think if they start really quick and start to play on a little bit of those insecurities and that doubt then maybe the Wallabies can step up and do what they did to the Springboks last week in Adelaide.”
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Cane was asked about the chat in Australia that this represented the best Wallabies chance to wrest back the Bledisloe in some time.
“The thing about the Aussies, it doesn’t matter what’s going on, they’ve always got plenty of confidence in themselves and their ability, and they’ve shown that time and time again in how they can front up,” the openside flanker said.
“There’s been some absolute classic matches in games that I’ve been involved in that go right down to the wire. And I expect the intensity to be right up there tomorrow night, right from the outset. I think it will be a brutal encounter and we’re ready for it.”
Both teams will feature reworked loose forward trios for what is always a fiercely contested aspect of Bledisloe encounters.
Cane will be paired with No.8 Hoskins Sotutu and converted blindside Scott Barrett in the absence of vice-captain Ardie Savea (expecting a child) and Shannon Frizell (ribs).
That means the All Blacks will essentially be fielding three locks at Marvel Stadium with veteran Brodie Retallick promoted from bench duties.
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“Scooter’s (Barrett) done a really good job at six the times he’s been called upon at the start of the year and it just makes sense having the big man Brodie back, he just loves these encounters,” Cane said.
“And then Hoskins has been patiently waiting for his opportunity and he had another impressive Super Rugby campaign. He’s been training the house down with us, he’s been putting on a good show in helping us prepare every week, and I know he’s ready for his opportunities and excited by it.”
The Wallabies back-row trio also features two new faces with super-sub Pete Samu replacing Fraser McReight at No.7 and Rob Leota taking Jed Holloway’s blindside role.
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“They’ve picked up a loose forward trio that are all good strong ball carriers and we’re anticipating the game to be quite physical,” Cane observed.
“The breakdowns are always important but often result of a breakdown is how well the team is playing on top in terms of getting over the gain line with carries. It’s our job to nullify that and put it back over them.”
Cane also noted Australia’s improved maul under the guidance of forwards coach Dan McKellar and touched on the first midweek Bledisloe since 1994.
That could be a good omen for the Wallabies: it was the Sydney Football Stadium Test in which George Gregan denied Jeff Wilson in his famous tackle.
“The kilter’s been thrown out having a Thursday night in terms of our days and the language we use because we’re so used to the structure,” Cane said.
“But yeah, can’t wait for it.”
WALLABIES (15-1): Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Lalakai Foketi, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Rob Valetini, Pete Samu, Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Jed Holloway, Allan Alaalatoa, Dave Porecki, James Slipper (c)
Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Scott Sio, Pone Fa’amausili, Darcy Swain, Fraser McReight, Nic White, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia
ALL BLACKS (15-1): Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Caleb Clarke, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Hoskins Sotutu, Sam Cane (c), Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Tyrel Lomax, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ethan de Groot
Reserves: Dane Coles, George Bower, Fletcher Newell, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Quinn Tupaea
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