Bledisloe Bash Begins in Tri Nations

As the Tri Nations tournament nears the halfway point, the Bledisloe Cup enters the mix. So is called the inter-nation trophy between New Zealand and Australia during the Southern Hemisphere competition, a competition dating back to 1931. In what will be the first of four tests this year, the Wallabies are hoping to wrest the Cup from the All Blacks’ grasp for the first time since 2002, and wouldn’t mind a Tri Nations title while they’re at it.

Instead of players dominating headlines in the buildup, the story of a sports photographer is commandeering attention. Getty photographer Scott Barbour, originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, but now relocated to Melbourne, Australia — location of the first test match between the Wallabies and the All Blacks, snapped close ups of New Zealand coach Graham Henry’s tactical sheet.

Of course, that subtracted from the on-the-field chatter that is only now starting to heat up. The confidence of a young Australia side is at a good level, as the Wallabies search for an end of a run of seven straight losses to New Zealand. The All Blacks, who thoroughly dominated South Africa in the Tri Nation’s first two tests, are deep and experienced. Australian coach Robbie Deans will need much more than a few glimpses of Henry’s tactics to take down New Zealand

The scene turns to Melbourne, at Docklands Stadium. It’s where Deans will lead Australia out against his fellow Kiwis, looking to snap a seven-game losing streak at the hands of the All Blacks. Whispers of a troublesome pitch threatens the match, but as of now is set to kick off early Saturday in the United States.

New Zealand’s performance in the opening two tests against South Africa were matched by the Wallabies, seeing off the Springboks last week 30-13. The only bad news emerging from that results was Quade Cooper’s two-week suspension for a high tackle. Australia can boast some semblance of depth, calling Berrick Barnes into the centers while shifting Matt Giteau into Cooper’s fly-half spot. Giteau’s performance last weekend is what the Wallabies need to contest the All Blacks, who have the seemingly perfect Dan Carter handling kicking duties.

Two rivals that know each other so well can sometimes make for boring rugby. Tight, defensive matches at the breakdown are where this one will be won and lost — both Mils Muliana and Adam Ashley-Cooper are excellent fullbacks who should discourage any kind of long-kicking approach. Australia needs to take the attack to the outside, use their team speed and youthful energy to wear out New Zealand.

Sampling an Australian rugby column gives a glimpse of how loose some of the supporters may be. It is naive to think that the All Blacks can’t get any better — South Africa may have been off in their three road tests, but assuming they have peaked is a daft idea. Deans should know this, and considering this is his third crack at a Tri Nations, the pressure will be firmly on the home side’s coach to prove why he signed on in 2007. A win is also paramount because the Wallabies must travel to Christchurch next week, and to lose to New Zealand on home soil could seal the Tri Nations this weekend.

Highlights of Australia’s 30-13 win can be seen here.

Kickoff is at 6:00 AM Saturday. Pay viewing options are here.

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