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THE GREAT BLACK WAVE

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THE GREAT BLACK WAVE

THE GREAT BLACK WAVE

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FROM SKY SPORT RUGBY EXPERT TONY JOHNSON

There’s always a bit of shadow boxing when The Rugby Championship coincides with Rugby World Cup year, with coaches carefully managing their key players through a condensed series.

But when the All Blacks and Black Ferns turn up at the magnificent Optus Stadium in Perth (pictured) on the 10th, they’ll be looking to land knockdown blows.

For the second straight year, the iconic New Zealand teams will play home-and-away double-headers against their Aussie rivals, and will be intent on defending the trophies that mean so much to them. 

The world champion Black Ferns will be out to protect their unbeaten record against Australia and retain the Laurie O’Reilly Memorial Trophy, named after the late New Zealand Commissioner for Children and much revered foundation coach of the national women’s side.

They’ll do so under new leadership, following the retirement late last year of legendary Ferns skipper Fiao’o Fa’amausili, who marked her final series against the Wallaroos with a hat-trick in the first test in Sydney.

They should be up for anything Australia can throw at them, after the very physical Super Series in California in July, a campaign notable for the return of world-class centre Carla Hohepa from parental leave and the impressive debut of North Harbour loosie Pia Tapsell.

The return match will be played at Eden Park the following Saturday ahead of the second Bledisloe Cup test, but don’t refer to it as a “curtain raiser”. It’s a test.

As for the All Blacks, in a year such as this, the Bledisloe takes second priority only to William Webb Ellis. They will chop and change things a bit for the Argentina, South Africa and Tonga tests, but will take no risks with the Wallabies.

The men in black have now held the plus-sized trophy since 2003. In every RWC year since then, the Aussies have managed to sneak one win, but not the two needed to wrest back the mantle of trans-Tasman supremacy.

If they’re to do it, Michael Cheika’s men will need to do a better job of containing Beauden Barrett, who tore them apart with a brilliant four-try effort at Eden Park last August.

Everything will hinge on that first test. If the Wallabies can’t win it then it’s back to the trophy room for the cup, but if they can upset the All Blacks in Perth, then light the fuse and stand back for Bledisloe Two.

At the same time the All Blacks and Wallabies are going at it, we’ll be keeping a close eye on back-to-back clashes between the Springboks and Pumas.

The first will be played for Rugby Championship points in Argentina the morning (NZT) after the opening Bledisloe test, while a second, non-Championship test, has been slated for Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria sevens days later.

Never mind the talk of bigger pictures, that’s one massive fortnight of top-quality international rugby.

Optus Stadium – Perth

Perth will host its first Bledisloe Cup match at the impressive new Optus Stadium. With a capacity of 60,000, it boasts more than 50 food and drink outlets, and a thousand TV screens.

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN KINDLY SUPPLIED BY SKYWATCH. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT AUGUST ISSUE FOR MORE GREAT SPORT!