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Wallabies still a work in progress as All Blacks claim win in second Bledisloe Cup Test


Missed tackles and turnover ball will cruel any rugby team’s chances of victory, as the Wallabies were reminded of in Sunday’s 27-7 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park.

Costly mistakes from the Wallabies were pounced upon by a clinical All Blacks outfit, who played as if they had a point to prove following last weekend’s 16-16 draw in the Bledisloe Cup opener in Wellington.

The Wallabies did deserve to be as close to the All Blacks as they were at half-time — only 10-7 down on the scoreboard — and they had at least two genuine try-scoring chances in the second term that could have kept them in the hunt.

But lapses in the fundamentals of both attack and defence let them down at various stages of the match and they have plenty to work on ahead of facing the All Blacks again later this month on Australian soil.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the second Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland.

Wallabies made to pay for poor defence

Ask any rugby coach what the key to a successful defensive performance is and they will tell you it comes down to attitude.

That being the case, Wallabies defence coach Matt Taylor now has to work as much on the mental approach of his players — and not just defensive structure and tackling technique — after they recorded 40 missed tackles against the All Blacks.

The lacklustre effort was punished by the All Blacks, who showed aggression with their carries in attack throughout the 80 minutes, while their support play often stretched the Wallabies’ defensive line.

Improving a defence that leaked four tries will be a priority for the Wallabies ahead of the upcoming three-nation tournament with the All Blacks and Argentina.

Turnovers prove costly

The intent in attack for the Wallabies was on display in Auckland but poor ball security and decision making meant the execution left much to be desired.

No team can afford to turn over possession to the All Blacks, who again showed how dangerous they are in counterattack.

For example, a Jordan Petaia loose carry coughed up possession when the Wallabies were on the attack, leading to Sam Cane’s 53rd-minute try.

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And only minutes earlier, Ardie Savea’s try came courtesy of an aimless Wallabies kick into the All Blacks’ half.

Caleb Clarke had taken the high ball before producing a bulldozing run that gave the home side a deep entry into Wallabies territory, from which point they eventually crossed for their third try of the afternoon.

Greater respect for possession — as well as a need to tighten their defence — was highlighted by Wallabies coach Dave Rennie after full-time.

“Today we turned the ball over a lot and then missed too many tackles,” Rennie said.

“You just can’t gift the All Blacks that much ball. They’ve got too many athletes who can hurt you and that’s what we saw today.”

All Blacks have a star in the making

The comparisons to the late Jonah Lomu are premature, but Clarke announced himself as an All Blacks star of the future with a stunning run-on debut.

The 21-year-old winger was a handful for the Wallabies in attack, perhaps best illustrated by the aforementioned lead-up work he provided for Savea’s try in the second half, which effectively sealed the win for the All Blacks.

A New Zealand All Blacks player makes a break against the Wallabies.
Caleb Clarke had a significant impact in his first run-on Test for the All Blacks.(AP: Mark Baker)

The physically imposing Clarke, whose father Eroni played for the All Blacks in the 1990s, made 12 tackle busts and three clean line breaks in a performance that satisfied coach Ian Foster in his classically understated way.

“We’re just trying to give him the ball occasionally and he’s pretty useful,” Foster said after the match.

Beauden Barrett also made his presence felt in his return from injury, showing what the All Blacks missed through his absence in Wellington a week ago.

Has Hanigan arrived as a Test player?

Rennie deserves praise for the faith he showed in Ned Hanigan, whose almost two-year hiatus from the Test arena came to an end with selection in the Wallabies’ starting XV.

Hanigan had not proven himself at the international level in his previous 20 Test appearance but his performance at blindside flanker at Eden Park was impressive.

An Australian Wallabies player prepares to throw a pass against the All Blacks.
Ned Hanigan produced his best display in a Wallabies jersey.(AP: Mark Baker)

He was effective on both the attacking and defensive sides of the ball, with his highlights reel featuring a crucial line break that eventually led to the Wallabies’ only try of the afternoon, scored by Marika Koroibete.

The challenge now for Hanigan is to back up that display, as being able to produce a repeat effort will go a long way to ensuring he has a long-term future as a member of Rennie’s Wallabies program.



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New Zealand’s All Blacks defeat Australia 27-7 in second Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland


Australia’s run of outs at Eden Park has continued, with New Zealand recording a convincing 27-7 victory in the second Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland.

The Wallabies have not beaten the All Blacks at the venue since 1986 and the visitors backed their chances of snapping the losing streak following their spirited display in last weekend’s pulsating 16-16 draw in Wellington.

But the All Blacks were in a different class for much of the contest at Eden Park, scoring four tries to one to edge closer to retaining the Bledisloe Cup, which they have held since 2003.

After holding a slender 10-7 lead at half-time, the All Blacks scored three tries in the second term and kept the Wallabies scoreless on the way to their 20th straight victory over their trans-Tasman rival at Eden Park.

The All Blacks and Wallabies will meet again in two Tests in Sydney (October 31) and Brisbane (November 7) in what is a revamped Rugby Championship tournament following the withdrawal of South Africa.

Both sides will also play Argentina in the three-nation competition.

The All Blacks, stung by a poor effort in the Bledisloe Cup opener, came into Sunday’s Test in Auckland with more venom.

Veteran hooker Dane Coles bristled with energy and the return of Beauden Barrett from injury injected penetrative pace.

A New Zealand All Blacks players holds an Australian Wallabies opponent around the shoulders.
There was some feeling in the early exchanges between the All Blacks and Wallabies.(AP: Mark Baker)

But the undoubted star was winger Caleb Clarke, who showed Jonah Lomu-like skills and strength as he bulldozed the Wallabies defence time and again to announce himself as a future star in the making.

Clarke, whose father Eroni played for the All Blacks, was so impressive he left the field to a standing ovation with 12 minutes remaining in the match.

The All Blacks did a great job protecting five-eighth Richie Mo’unga after he was ruffled by the Wallabies’ defence in Wellington.

They used skip passes to Jack Goodhue and Barrett also stepped into first receiver role.

After a Mo’unga penalty, it was Goodhue running at first receiver in the 23rd minute that led to the All Blacks’ first try.

Goodhue powered to within a metre of the line and Aaron Smith scooted around from the base of the ruck to score.

Ned Hanigan was a strong addition to the Wallabies’ starting XV and they struck back just on the half-hour mark when the blindside flanker broke through an attempted tackle by Joe Moody.

Moody was left face down on the turf after being knocked out when his head smacked into Hanigan’s hip.

Hanigan burst clear to give the Wallabies vital field position and they capitalised through Marika Koroibete scoring in the left corner.

Four Australian Wallabies players celebrate a try against New Zealand's All Blacks.
The Wallabies had a glimmer of hope when Marika Koroibete (second from right) scored a try.(AP: Mark Baker)

The Wallabies were dealt a blow from the ensuing kick-off when Matt To’omua appeared to strain a hip flexor while making a clearing kick and he was replaced by Jordan Petaia.

Leading by three points at half-time, the All Blacks started the second term with a try-scoring blitz.

Within three minutes of the resumption, Jordie Barrett crossed after Mo’unga and Goodhue combined to create an overlap against a flat-footed Wallabies defence.

The match was effectively over three minutes later when Clarke — with a mix of raw power and savvy footwork — smashed through five would-be tacklers to create the space for number eight Ardie Savea to bust past the remnants of the Wallabies’ broken defence.

With the All Blacks leading 20-7, the Wallabies had appeared to grab one try back when hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa crawled over the line from a rolling maul deep inside opposition territory.

But following the intervention of the TMO, Paenga-Amosa was judged to have promoted the ball illegally across the line and the All Blacks were awarded a penalty.

All Blacks skipper Same Cane scored the fourth and final try in the 53rd minute, with Mo’unga adding the conversion to close out the scoring for the afternoon.

AAP/ABC



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Live: All Blacks, Wallabies locked in tight battle in second Bledisloe Cup Test



Coming off last weekend’s thrilling draw, there is little separating New Zealand and Australia at Eden Park, as the Wallabies chase their first win over the All Blacks at the venue in 34 years. Follow all the action in our live ScoreCentre.



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Wallabies make changes for second Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand’s All Blacks


Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has backed recalled forward Ned Hanigan to provide “a point of difference” in Sunday’s second Bledisloe Cup Test at Auckland’s Eden Park.

Hanigan has been named at blindside flanker to face the All Blacks as part of a back-row positional change to the Wallabies’ line-up that drew last Sunday’s thrilling Bledisloe Cup opener 16-16 in Wellington.

Harry Wilson, who played at blindside flanker in Wellington, shifts to number eight, with Pete Samu dropping out of the matchday squad for the Eden Park clash.

Brandon Paenga-Amosa replaces Folau Fainga’a at hooker in the other change to the starting XV, while Queensland pair Liam Wright and Jordan Petaia have been selected on the reserves bench.

Hanigan has not played a Test since 2018 but Rennie said the 25-year-old deserved an international recall based on his training performances.

“Ned has been really impressive and has trained superbly in the four weeks that we’ve been together,” Rennie said.

“He’s done a lot of work around the All Blacks and the opposition stuff leading into last weekend’s game.

Hanigan, who can also play lock, offers the Wallabies an extra lineout option against the All Blacks.

“He’s a really good leader and lineout forward and we think all those elements are important this week,” Rennie said of Hanigan, who has played 20 Tests for the Wallabies.

An Australian rugby union international holds onto the ball as he is tackled by two defenders.
Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami was busy in attack and defence on debut.(AP: Brett Phibbs)

Rennie showed faith in outside centre Hunter Paisami, resisting the urge to name Petaia in his starting XV after the 20-year-old recovered from the hip injury that ruled him out of the Wellington Test.

Paisami performed well in his Test debut last Sunday and will again partner Matt To’omua in the centres.

Wright’s inclusion on the reserves bench comes at the expense of Rob Valetini.

The All Blacks have also made changes to their matchday squad, with Beauden Barrett returning from injury to line up at fullback.

Barrett missed the opening Test because of an Achilles tendon injury. He takes the place of Damien McKenzie, who moves to the bench.

Among the other changes, Rieko Ioane has been dumped from the starting XV, with Anton Lienert-Brown named in the centres, and Caleb Clarke replaces injured winger George Bridge.

Lock Sam Whitelock has failed to recover from a head knock, with Tupou Vaa’i coming into the starting line-up.

The Wallabies are chasing their first victory over the All Blacks at Eden Park in 34 years.

A win would boost their chances of reclaiming the Bledisloe Cup, which the All Blacks have held since 2003.

The Wallabies and All Blacks will play another two Tests as part of what is now a three-nation tournament following the withdrawal of South Africa from the Rugby Championship.

Argentina will also contest the Tri-Nations championship alongside the Wallabies and All Blacks.

ABC/AAP



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Wallabies show promising signs against All Blacks in epic Bledisloe Cup draw in Wellington


It is far too early to suggest Australia is on the verge of reclaiming the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in almost two decades, but Sunday’s epic 16-16 draw with New Zealand provided evidence brighter days may lie ahead for the Wallabies.

They had their chances to beat the All Blacks in Wellington during almost 90 minutes of rugby and they will no doubt count themselves unlucky Reece Hodge’s long-range effort after the full-time siren hit the upright instead of sailing through for a match-winning penalty goal.

It was not a flawless performance from the Wallabies but there were enough positives to give Wallabies coach Dave Rennie hope his side can win the second Bledisloe Cup Test next Sunday at Auckland’s Eden Park, although he would be mindful of Australia’s woeful record at the venue.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the Wallabies’ display in the pulsating Bledisloe Cup opener.

Wallabies playing with harder edge

It could not be said the Wallabies lacked a desire to win under former coach Michael Cheika, but the squad’s resolve does appear to be strengthening under Rennie’s leadership.

Yes, this is an observation made following just one Test under his coaching, however there were signs in Wellington the Wallabies are developing into a mentally tougher unit.

An example of this came when they trailed 13-3 in the second half.

This was a point in the match where in the past the Wallabies could have easily folded against the All Blacks, especially when playing in New Zealand.

An Australian rugby union international reaches out to plant the ball down in the corner for a try.
Winger Marika Koroibete (right) scored one of the Wallabies’ two tries.(AP/Photosport)

Yet Rennie’s team responded with score tries to Filipo Daugunu and Marika Koroibiete, and a penalty goal to James O’Connor to move in front on the scoreboard, 16-13.

The fact they could not close out the match shows they are nowhere near the finished product, but there is a reason for Wallabies fans to be encouraged.

Rennie’s comments after the match should also hearten the Australian rugby community, as he showed he will not be satisfied simply with admirable performances.

“We’re disappointed,” Rennie said in his post-match media conference.

“We’re certainly not celebrating in the changerooms.”

There’s room for improvement

As spirited as the Wallabies’ display was in Wellington, there are areas of concern for Rennie ahead of the Eden Park clash and looking beyond to the Rugby Championship beginning later this month.

The Wallabies enjoyed around 60 per cent of both possession and territory, yet could not translate those stats into a decisive scoreboard advantage against the All Blacks.

The line-out proved to be a weakness and the All Blacks got the better of the breakdown battle, while discipline was a cause for alarm, with the Wallabies conceding 14 penalties to their opponents’ seven.

None of this was lost on Rennie.

“We’re miles away from where we need to be, we let ourselves down,” he said.

“We gave away 14 penalties and a big chunk of those were post tackle.”

Debutants show the right stuff

There is no tougher assignment for a player making his Test debut than facing the All Blacks in New Zealand, and Wallabies trio Daugunu, Hunter Paisami and Harry Wilson have reason to hold their heads high.

It is too early to tell whether they will have a similar impact at Test level to another three Wallabies who debuted against the All Blacks in New Zealand 31 years ago — World Cup winners Tim Horan, Phil Kearns and Tony Daly — but there were encouraging signs.

A male Australian Test rugby player dives in the air as he scores a try against the All Blacks.
Filipo Daugunu (left) was impressive on debut for the Wallabies.(AP: John Cowpland)

Winger Daugunu proved a handful on the wing and was justly rewarded with a second-half try, while outside centre Paisami performed with distinction on both sides of the ball.

The hype surrounding back rower Wilson during Queensland’s Super Rugby and Super Rugby AU campaigns was massive and there is much evidence to predict he will deliver on his promise.

Wilson is the type of ball-running back rower — with the ability to offload in the tackle — the Wallabies desperately need and his aggression in defence is another of his strengths.

He was not intimidated by his first exposure to Bledisloe Cup rugby and a lengthy Test career could await the 20-year-old.

Wallabies should keep All Blacks happy

Although the All Blacks were staring at their first loss to the Wallabies in New Zealand in 19 years, they should be satisfied with the performance of their trans-Tasman rivals.

That may sound like a strange statement, but stick with me on this one.

It was only two years ago that then-New Zealand coach Steve Hansen threw a barb at Australia by suggesting the All Blacks were being hindered in the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup because they were lacking consistent competition from the Wallabies.

“There is definitely something missing because they [the Wallabies] are not quite right and are not performing to the level they can,” Hansen said in late 2018.

A New Zealand All Blacks players holds the ball while under pressure from the Australian defence.
The All Blacks were pushed by the Wallabies throughout the contest in Wellington.(AP: Andrew Cornaga)

The Wallabies did beat the All Blacks in Brisbane in 2017 and last year in Perth, but they were the only wins they could muster over Hansen’s side in the 2016-2019 Rugby World Cup window and they were both achieved on home soil.

Aside from a gallant 35-29 loss in Dunedin three years ago, the Wallabies barely laid a glove on the All Blacks when playing in New Zealand during that period, highlighted by last year’s 36-0 thrashing in Auckland.

A more competitive Wallabies outfit under Rennie might just keep the All Blacks happy.



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Wallabies, All Blacks draw first Bledisloe Cup Test in Wellington


The Wallabies and All Blacks have played out a gripping 16-16 draw in the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Wellington, with play continuing for almost nine minutes after the full-time siren.

Reece Hodge had the chance to snatch a win with a 55-metre penalty goal attempt after the full-time siren, but his shot hit the right-hand upright.

Play continued but neither side was able to find the winning points, with James O’Connor finally electing to boot the ball into touch and settle for the draw almost nine minutes after the siren had sounded.

O’Connor kicked a penalty in the 63rd minute to split a 13-13 deadlock and it looked like it could be enough for the Wallabies to break through for their first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2001.

But veteran Wallabies lock Rob Simmons gave away a penalty with two minutes remaining, allowing Jordie Barrett to level for the All Blacks.

The Wallabies, playing under new coach Dave Rennie for the first time, trailed 8-3 at half-time and 13-3 soon after the break but their wingers, Marika Koroibete and debutant Filipo Daugunu, both scored to level the score at 13-13 and put the visitors in position for an unlikely victory.

An Australian rugby union international reaches out to plant the ball down in the corner for a try.
Marika Koroibete scored the first of the Wallabies’ two tries.(AP/Photosport)

“I’m very proud of our team to fight all the way through,” Wallabies captain Michael Hooper told New Zealand’s Sky Sport.

“It was an enjoyable game, despite the conditions and despite the result, we are off to a good start with some things … there’s a lot of belief.

Playing the first of four Bledisloe Cup Tests, the Wallabies looked a little shaky early on.

Australian touch judge Angus Gardner did not do the Wallabies any favours when he failed to raise his flag when Rieko Ioane put his foot on the line in the build-up to the All Blacks’ first try.

The home side worked the ball wide to make room for Barrett to open the scoring in the eighth minute.

The Wallabies kept busy, dominating possession and territory in the first half with halfback Nic White mixing up his game to keep the All Blacks on their toes.

An Australian rugby union international holds onto the ball as he is tackled by two defenders.
Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami was busy in attack and defence on debut.(AP: Brett Phibbs)

But their line-out was again a weakness, turning over three throws.

It looked like they had conceded a try right on half-time when hooker Folau Faingaa spilt a ball which was picked up by Sam Cane, but Ioane blew a certain try when he lost control of the ball as he tried to put it down one-handed.

The Wallabies continued to build into the match, with their defence a highlight, giving All Blacks playmaker Richie Mo’unga no room.

The superb showing means the Wallabies can dare to dream of winning back the Bledisloe Cup, heading next to Auckland’s Eden Park next Sunday on a high.

AAP/ABC



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New Zealand’s All Blacks to avoid Christmas in quarantine after change to Rugby Championship draw


The All Blacks will not spend Christmas in hotel quarantine after Rugby Australia (RA) and SANZAAR revised the Rugby Championship draw and brought forward the final Australia-New Zealand clash.

The Wallabies and All Blacks were due to meet in the last match of the tournament on December 12.

Under current New Zealand regulations, that would have meant the All Blacks would have to complete two weeks in quarantine that would take in Christmas.

There was talk of a potential boycott by New Zealand players if a solution was not found.

The teams will now square off in the Rugby Championship opener, which doubles as the third Bledisloe Cup Test, on October 31 at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.

The match between Argentina and South Africa, part of a double-header on December 12, has been relocated from the Olympic stadium to Newcastle to close out the seven-week tournament.

The remainder of the draw is otherwise unchanged, with the Wallabies and All Blacks meeting for a fourth time as part of a double-header in Brisbane on November 7.

South Africa’s participation remains to be confirmed, with its government still to approve international travel for the world champions.

A Wallabies player pushes past an All Black preparing to pass the ball.
The Wallabies and All Blacks will now meet in the Rugby Championship opener.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said the opening of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand had allowed organisers to make the changes.

He hinted that New Zealand Rugby (NZR) had been forced to foot some of the bill for the rescheduling.

“The opening of the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand from New Zealand and an agreement by the parties on revised commercial outcomes has enabled the joint venture to consider alternative solutions in addressing our two key objectives of commercial viability and player welfare,” Marinos said.

“This year has been a year of continued adjustment where the SANZAAR partners have had to compromise on a number of levels.”

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson welcomed the decision.

“It is great news that we now have certainty on the draw and we’re really excited about the fantastic rugby to come,” Robinson said.

The Christmas quarantine stoush had kept tensions high between the trans-Tasman neighbours, with NZR claiming it never agreed to a December 12 finish.

NZR was already unhappy that Australia had snatched hosting rights away due to more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.

It got to the point that RA chairman Hamish McLennan said the relationship between the countries was at its “lowest ebb”.

The teams meet in the opening Bledisloe Cup in Wellington on Sunday, with an Auckland Test a week later.

AAP



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Rugby Championship schedule means New Zealand All Blacks will miss Christmas


New Zealand Rugby has slammed the Rugby Championship scheduling, which means the All Blacks will have to spend Christmas Day in hotel quarantine.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said in a statement it had not agreed to the announced schedule of matches, and it had hoped New Zealand’s final game would be played on December 5.

However, the fixtures released today show the final scheduled match will take place in Sydney on December 12.

Due to the New Zealand Government’s requirement all returning travellers must undertake two weeks of quarantine, that means the All Blacks would be in isolation until December 26 at the earliest.

“The wellbeing of our people is an incredibly important factor,” NZR boss Mark Robinson said.

Australian players watch New Zealand perform the Haka ahead of the Wallabies' match with the All Blacks, Eden Park, Auckland
The Wallabies will play the All Blacks on November 7 in Brisbane and December 12 in Sydney.(Reuters: Ross Setford)

“We are committed to playing in the Rugby Championship and we know the scheduling of matches has been a complex and dynamic issue to work through, especially with quarantine protocols.

“We will now work through the issues with Rugby Australia and SANZAAR and believe that there are other solutions within the Rugby Championship window.”

SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos said it had taken “a lot of hard work to get to this point” and that the rescheduling “has not been ideal”.

The tournament, featuring six double-header match days will start with the Springboks opening its title defence against Argentina in Brisbane, followed by the Wallabies taking on the All Blacks on November 7.

Among a number of All Blacks players and near the goalposts, Michael Hooper raises both hands to the sky and smiles.
Michael Hooper will captain the Wallabies at the Rugby Championship.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

After that, the competition shifts to New South Wales, with further matches taking place at Stadium Australia, Parramatta Stadium and in Newcastle.

SANZAAR announced Australia would host the six-week tournament earlier this month after New Zealand could not guarantee players from visiting teams could train together due to quarantine requirements.

Prior to the Rugby Championship, New Zealand will host the Wallabies in two Bledisloe Cup Tests on October 11 and 18.

The New Zealand Government said it would relax its quarantine rules to ensure the Wallabies would be able to prepare properly for the matches.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had spoken with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and told him her country’s strict biosecurity regulations could be eased to ensure a level playing field.



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Rugby League’s feelings of international inadequacy laid bare by All Blacks carrot


Drastic times call for drastic measures.

That must be the thinking at the HQs of New Zealand Rugby and the Australian Rugby League, as reports emerged yesterday that both bodies were considering a proposal for a 14-a-side hybrid match between the two flagship teams in December.

It’s not a new idea.

According to New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson, the most recent approach from the Australian Rugby League was as recently as 2017.

And although the likelihood of any match actually getting off the ground was remote for a whole host of reasons, what made this time different enough for Robinson to say it was considering the proposal?

Money, or lack thereof thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

That is the only reason this is being discussed at all, and is the same reason that NRL and numerous other sports leagues were at such pains to return in a variety of constrained circumstances.

The perilous financial state of one of the most famous brands in sport was exposed later on Thursday when New Zealand Rugby announced a total of 40 job losses, 25 per cent of the union’s staff members.

Among a number of All Blacks players and near the goalposts, Michael Hooper raises both hands to the sky and smiles.
A series of Bledisloe Cup matches are on the cards for later this year.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

That was an improvement on the 50 per cent job losses that were predicted in May, but an inevitable result of the forecast $120 million decline in revenue for the current financial year that has only been slightly alleviated by the emergence of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.

“We must be very clear that our priority is we want the All Blacks to play international rugby for the remainder of the year,” Robinson said.

“[The Kangaroos match] is one of many different scenarios in a unique year like this that we’re considering with looking to be innovative and having a focus on trying to consider revenue-generating ideas at this time given the financial climate we’re in.”

What would a contest be like?

Cross-code battles are not a new phenomenon, even considering the notoriously frosty relationship between the two codes of rugby.

Historically, hybrid rules were the norm when it came to the early games of football — a tradition that has continued most notably by the AFL and GAA with their intermittently played Gaelic/Australian football matches.

The most famous ‘clash of the codes’ from a rugby context took place back in 1996 in the UK, when Bath and Wigan, the dominant sides in each code took part in a two-match series — one game taking place under each codes’ unique set of rules.

Predictably, Wigan trounced their union counterparts under league rules at Maine Road, before Bath returned the favour at Twickenham under union rules.

Aaron Smith stands next to a scrum between Australia and New Zealand
Union scrums pose a near-insurmountable hurdle for an even cross-code contest.(AAP: David Rowland)

Even then though, union was forced to make concessions due to the technical nature of the sport.

Full, union-style scrums were an impossibility even in the late 90s, justifiably judged to be too dangerous.

Given how much scrummaging has changed in the professional era, it would be madness to even consider throwing inexperienced league props into that bear-pit.

That would be a concession in this hybrid game too.

With early suggestions that it would be 14-a-side, no scrums or lineouts and there would be an eight-phase limit on forward progress, the game would inherently favour league.

League players all for it

A Manly NRL player screams out and pumps his fists as he celebrates kicking the winning field goal against the Sydney Roosters.
Daly Cherry-Evans said he’d love to play against the All Blacks.(AAP: Darren Pateman)

Aside from the admission from New Zealand Rugby that they are investigating the possibility of a match, most of the positive noises appear to be coming from across rugby’s Rubicon.

Kangaroos star Daly Cherry-Evans told NRL.com, “I would love to play something like that. It would be unreal.

“Anything like that where there is an opportunity to grow the game of rugby league, in particular in a time like now, I think is a great idea.”

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga was similarly enthused, highlighting the international implications in his interview with the Courier Mail.

“We want to play the All Blacks, hopefully, we can get the concept off the ground,” he said.

As one of the world’s most recognisable sporting brands, anything the All Blacks did would create headlines around the globe, a reach league is simply not able to harness due to its limited geographic spread in relation to union.

Mal Meninga at Kangaroos training
Mal Meninga wants to see the game happen to expand the reach of the Kangaroos brand.(AAP: Julian Smith)

As such, perhaps it was understandable that interim Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said he would “not lose sleep” over a cross-code clash, saying he had “bigger fish to fry”.

That indifference, feigned or otherwise, contrasts starkly with the eagerness at which Meninga and Cherry-Evans have appeared to jump onto the bandwagon, which could suggest something of an inferiority complex when it comes to global recognition.

The irony is that international rugby league has never looked better.

Seizing a golden opportunity

International rugby league is, relatively speaking, on the rise — and Australia is best positioned to take advantage of an under-resourced rugby hotspot as a result.

Australian rugby league players look on dejected after losing to Tonga.
The Kangaroos could look to their own code for New Zealand-based opposition.

Not only that, but it is on the rise in the Pacific — the one region on the planet where a coronavirus-free travel bubble could theoretically exist.

It is a region the 15-man code has wilfully ignored for decades.

Fiji, Samoa and Tonga were excluded from the one-time riches of Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship at their inception, and have been similarly ignored in favour of new, more lucrative markets in Japan and South America in the meantime.

That is a pattern that has been reflected in the paltry number of top-level matches the Pacific nations face against top-level opposition between Rugby World Cups.

The All Blacks have played just 18 official Tests in their history against the Pacific triumvirate of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, with just one game taking place outside of New Zealand (and that came as recently as 2015 in Apia against Samoa).

The Wallabies have been more supportive, playing 32 matches against the Pacific nations — although just three of those have been as visitors — with three trips to Suva in the past 67 years of competition against Fiji.

Tonga players embrace after beating Australian in a rugby league Test at Eden Park.
Tonga beat the Kangaroos in just their second ever international meeting in November last year.

League, on the other hand, has recently embraced the Pacific, riding the wave of enthusiasm that has greeted the emergence of the Tongan team and establishing challenge matches between Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa.

That the Tongan team beat the Kangaroos in its last meeting 16-12 at a raucous Eden Park just last year adds value to the rivalry and demands it is further cultivated. Afterall, having more modest global ambitions than union is not necessarily a weakness in the coronavirus era.

Tonga may well be as miffed as New Zealand Rugby League boss Greg Peters, who said, “If the Kangaroos play anybody, we want them to play the Kiwis.”

On the other side of the fence, for the All Blacks, perhaps a better use of its precious resources would be to give the ARU a further, mutually beneficial leg up in the form of extra Bledisloe matches.

After all, the long-term implications for the All Blacks of the Wallabies demise, against a backdrop of the diminishing viability of the trans-continental Super Rugby competition, are far more serious than the potential short-term financial hit any cross-code challenge would provide.



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