If you don’t “nail it”, you’re out.
That was Dave Rennie’s message ahead of Bledisloe II, having made four changes to his Wallabies side that came within an inch of defeating the All Blacks on New Zealand soil for the first time since 2001.
Hooker Folau Fainga’a and back-rower Pete Samu were the two biggest casualties of last weekend’s 16-16 draw in Wellington, with the Brumbies pairing left out of the Eden Park clash on Sunday afternoon.
While the likes of former Wallaby Morgan Turinui called for Rennie to reward each of the 15 for their strong performances, the New Zealand coach said that everything was being judged on individual “performance”.
“What we’re saying to the players is you need to nail it,” Rennie told reporters on Friday.
“While the result was reasonably good last week, we’re judging everything on performance and that’s not just from a team perspective it’s individually, so you (can’t) leave the door open for other guys to come in and give it a nudge.
“We also hoped that the excitement from those guys who are getting their crack this week will help us get over the line.”
Be there for the third Bledisloe Cup clash at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, Saturday 31 October. Tickets HERE
On the back of Super Rugby Aotearoa and the skill on display during New Zealand’s North v South match last month, few gave the Wallabies a chance of coming away with a result across the ditch.
While Rennie was pleased that he could make people “happy” back in Australia with the result, he said the draw would mean little if they didn’t back up their inspiring performance in Bledisloe I.
“Respect is earnt daily and it’s no good fronting well on Sunday and then laying down on Sunday, so it’s something we’ve talked about and something we’ve got to build on,” he said.
Once again the Wallabies are being written off ahead of Bledisloe II.
Too often the Wallabies have travelled across the ditch only to be sent packing from Auckland’s Eden Park with their tail between their legs.
Last year the Wallabies recorded a record-breaking win in Perth only to be smashed 36-0 at Eden Park a week later. It was a loss that continued the Wallabies’ 34-year hoodoo at the venue against the All Blacks while also extending the home side’s 26-year unbeaten streak there.
But nor does this Wallaby team have the scars from the past, with many, including Rennie, about to face the pressure-cooker for the first time in their international careers.
“I can’t speak from a Test perspective; I coached a lot of Chiefs teams that have played the Blues at Eden Park and we never lost one, but it’s a different cup of tea now isn’t it,” he said.
“We’re well aware of the task ahead, but we’ve prepared very well, we’ve made subtle changes to our game and, as I’ve mentioned, we’re going to grow over time.
“We know that the All Blacks will want to respond after last week, but we’ve got a lot more in us too and so we’ve talked a lot about belief.
“At some stage the All Blacks are going to lose a game at Eden Park, why not this Sunday?”
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The All Blacks have rejigged their side for the clash, with Beauden Barrett’s return at fullback one of a number of changes.
Backs Caleb Clarke and Anton Lienert-Brown have been promoted from the bench to start on the left wing and outside-centre positions respectively, while veteran Dane Coles starts ahead of Codie Taylor at hooker.
Elsewhere, Tupou Vaa’I comes off the bench to replace veteran lock Sam Whitelock, who has been ruled out with concussion, with Scott Barrett coming onto the reserves after returning to fitness himself.
While changes were anticipated for the All Blacks, less were expected with the Wallabies.
Rennie reinforced the importance of performance and said Hanigan and Paenga-Amosa deserved their opportunities.
“We’ve had a big focus on earning the right to play and the selection was based on performance as opposed to the outcome of last weekend’s game,” he said.
“Ned’s been really impressive. He’s trained superbly in the four weeks that we’ve been together and he’s led really well around lineout, he’s done a lot of work around obviously the All Blacks and the opposition stuff leading into last week’s game, but he’s a good athlete, he’s got a good skill-set and provides a point of difference for us at six and allows us to move Harry back to eight.
“And Brandon, obviously the lineout didn’t function as well last week, Folau’s a casualty of that. He’s certainly a very strong scrummager as well Brandon and a good athlete, so we think he’s the right man for us this weekend.”
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Barrett’s return to the All Blacks side will give them a massive boost in experience and X-Factor.
Rennie said they anticipated Barrett – the two-time World Rugby player of the year at fly-half – continuing in the jersey he wore during last year’s semi-final loss to England and highlighted the importance of not allowing the electric back space to counter.
“I think Richie Mo’unga’s been excellent for them for a long period now,” Rennie said.
“One of the best players in Super Rugby Aotearoa along with Aaron Smith, so no surprise with that combination.
“He’s certainly one of the best around, isn’t he? He obviously played a lot of 15 for the Blues and he’s played a lot for the All Blacks in recent times, so he’ll be pretty familiar back there.
“What we’ve got to make sure is that if we kick that we’re able to shut him down (because) his speed and his ability to counter and ability to create opportunities for others through running or kicking is a real strength, but we expected him to be there so we’ve planned for that.”
Wallabies v All Blacks at Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday 18th October. Kick-off: 2pm AEDT
WALLABIES (1-15): James Slipper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Matt Philip, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (c), Harry Wilson, Nic White, James O'Connor, Marika Koroibete, Matt To'omua, Hunter Paisami, Filipo Daugunu, Tom Banks
Reserves: Jordan Uelese, Scott Sio, Allan Alaalaota, Rob Simmons, Liam Wright, Jake Gordon, Jordan Petaia, Reece Hodge
ALL BLACKS (1-15):Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa'i, Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane (c), Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo'unga, Caleb Clarke, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett
Reserves: Codie Taylor, Alex Hodgman,Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Hoskins Sotutu, TJ Perenara, Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie