Packed crowd for Australia, New Zealand rugby clash | Sunday Observer

Packed crowd for Australia, New Zealand rugby clash

11 October, 2020

WELLINGTON AFP: New Zealand and Australia will play the first rugby Test since the pandemic on Sunday against a backdrop of disagreement and tension after chaos caused by the coronavirus opened up deep divisions.

The All Blacks and the Wallabies will take to the field in front of a packed, largely face mask-free crowd in Wellington just under a year since their last games, at the World Cup in Japan.

The on-pitch hostilities follow a torrid period this year when the two unions have quarrelled over the Rugby Championship internationals and Super Rugby, whose 25-year run has come crashing to a halt.

The opening Bledisloe Cup Test, the first international rugby since Covid-19 halted the Six Nations in March, will be followed by a second next week in Auckland, before the reformatted Rugby Championship starts in Australia on October 31.

Among rugby’s many changes since Japan last year, both teams have new coaches already looking ahead to the next World Cup in 2023.

The All Blacks are under Ian Foster, who took over after eight years as assistant to Steve Hansen, while the Wallabies turned to New Zealander Dave Rennie after Michael Cheika’s departure. Foster said memories of last year’s failed World Cup campaign have already been laid to rest by the three-time world champions.

“We don’t need that burden,” Foster said. “This is about this team.

“It’s about looking at the foundations and making sure we set that in this Test and subsequent ones to make sure we can launch into the next period.” The Wallabies’ Rennie, a Wellington native, has never coached at Test level before, but he knows exactly what he wants from his team.

“We have to be really aggressive, to try to force them to kick or to turn over some pill,” he said.

After surviving on Zoom calls with coaches and players for part of the year, Foster and Rennie get to launch their head-coach careers in front of a big crowd -- days after New Zealand declared victory over its second wave of Covid-19.

There is significance for both teams, as New Zealand rate the Bledisloe Cup as second in importance only to the World Cup and have held it for the past 18 years.

That domination has infuriated Australia and the depth of emotion heading into Sunday’s clash -- the first of four in the series, including two in the Rugby Championship -- was underscored by Wallabies centre Matt To’omua.