2021 Bledisloe Cup

Bledisloe Cup: Test 1 Lessons & Test 2 Predictions

Bledisloe Cup: Test 1 Lessons & Test 2 Predictions

We learned a lot from the first Bledisloe Cup test and we've got a few predictions for the second match of the series.

Aug 13, 2021 by Alex Rees

Last weekend’s Bledisloe Cup opener was another reminder that the All Blacks are still top of the food chain in the Tasman. A respectable 33-25 scoreline seems a generous reflection of the run of play largely dominated by New Zealand, save for a late three-try flourish from the Wallabies. 

Could the barrage of Australian tries in the final 10 minutes be chalked up to garbage time? Or could there be something deeper at play as it pertains to the All Blacks’ depth?

Here are three things we learned from Test #1:

1. Richie is affirmatively the man

Any lingering doubts that Richie Mo’unga isn’t the man for the black 10-shirt can and absolutely should be put to bed. Not only is the Crusaders man involved in nearly everything go-forward about the ABs, his absence is immediately felt as soon as he leaves the field. While Beauden Barrett - two-time world player of the year - is an exceptional talent, his control over the team is noticeably less impactful than his South Island counterpart. 

The All Blacks made a costly error at the World Cup by implanting Richie at the axis of a team that was built for three years around Beaudy, but this is a new side and it’s specifically designed to complement the generational talent that is Mo’unga. With each passing game, the 27-year old grows more and more confident, and as the days go by we’ll begin seeing why he’s widely hailed as the best player on the planet. 

2. Lolesio must calibrate his boot

For all that’s made of the man playing fly-half for New Zealand, the Wallabies have a pretty damn good first-receiver of their own. 21-year old Noah Lolesio is a very exciting young prospect who has already engineered a series win over France and has all the makings of a strong long-term option. He will, however, need to improve his goal-kicking if his Wallabies are to start taking down the likes of New Zealand or South Africa. 

Lolesio moved the ball well, attacked the line, and kicked for space in the open play, but was let down by his shoddy kicking for goal over the weekend. The youngster missed two makeable penalties and three conversions, leaving 12 total points off the board - in a game they only lost by eight. For Noah Lolesio to truly elevate into the ranks of a reliable test match option, he must channel his inner IceMan (an allusion to his predecessor Benard Foley) and have the cajones to consistently make the big kicks under pressure. 

3. The All Blacks aren’t as deep as we may think

Every year, pundits and ignorants alike offer up the bold and ill-informed take that the All Black aura has worn off. But the All Black aura seems to have worn off. Whereas in years-gone-by he 60th minute onward spelt out D-A-N-G-E-R for any and all opposition involved, the last couple of years have revealed the ABs aren’t as loaded as we might have thought. 

Generally a 33-8 lead for New Zealand with a quarter of an hour to go would mean we’re on our way to a 50+ point outing, but on Saturday it was quite the opposite. The Wallabies were clearly the stronger team in the final quarter, which indicates there may be depth issues under the surface for the All Blacks. With Sam Cane out, the ABs have seemed to have a hard time filling the open-side flanker role; in fact, the whole back row has seemed out of sync despite the talent they have in Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu, Akira Ioane, and Dalton Papalii. This week is a major opportunity for the big boys at the back of the scrum to reverse the perception that they can’t get it done together over 80min. 

Now, for three quick predictions ahead of Bledisloe #2:

1. Havili further cements his place

Rugby fans in-tune with the happenings of New Zealand provincial and Super Rugby over the past 5 years have been crying out for Tasman-man David Havili to be included in the All Blacks set-up. The remarkably versatile, dynamic, and intelligent footballer is one of the finest players in the world but has struggled to get much game time for his country since debuting in 2017, amassing just 6 caps. With his recent move into the center, it appears at long last the 26-year old will find his home in the New Zealand camp.

Expect to see another cracking performance from this Mako/Crusader on Saturday. 

2. The Wallabies strike first blood…

Coming out of Bledisloe #1, the Aussies will feel like they dug themselves too big a hole against a team they could have beaten. Sure to remedy the early mishaps of the first contest, expect the Wallabies to come out guns ablazing. They’re firm believers that the ABs aura has worn off - at least they say they are - and will be eager to make their presence felt immediately. A quick try early on may just signal some intent. 

3. The All Blacks cruise to victory anyways

Though the Wallabies will come out with the early statement, New Zealand know they have a point to prove of their own. In Game 2 you won’t see the All Blacks take their foot off the gas as they did in the first matchup, and the recipients of this fateful news will be Australia. With Will Jordan brought into the picture and Rieko Ioane moved to the centers, New Zealand will simply have too much firepower for the Wallabies to cope with. 

Score: New Zealand 41-17 Australia

Listen to All Blacks head coach Ian Foster discuss the changes to this week's roster: