Young Wallabies flyhalf Noah Lolesio made his Test debut against Richie Mo’unga and the All Blacks 10 months ago and came away as part of a team chastened by a record 43-5 defeat in Sydney.
On that occasion Lolesio was pitched into action after injuries to James O’Connor and Matt To’omua, but after a superb three Test effort in the series win over France, he could be getting a crack at redemption in the Bledisloe Cup this campaign.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said he expects O’Connor to be fit for the series after suffering a setback with his groin injury – but Rennie faces a tough call.
Lolesio twice kicked winning penalties, in the first and third Tests, and he was a standout alongside fellow youngster Tate McDermott as Australia overcame the loss of Marika Koroibete to a red card to beat France in Brisbane on Saturday night.
Sonny Bill Williams was full of praise for how Lolesio performed against France.
“He’s stepped up in this series in clutch moments.” Said Williams on Stan Sport. “You gain a lot of confidence in that.”
Former Wallaby Justin Harrison said Lolesio had taken a strong leap forward since the October 2020 debut.
“His kick, run and pass options are so much better,” said Harrison. “He makes them early. He’s creating opportunity for players around him.
“He has presence on the field, he’s got his own rhythm in this gold jersey and he’s getting confidence.”
Earlier the All Blacks thumped Fiji in their second Test, completing a three-game run that included a century of points against a weakened Tonga.
Williams felt that Australia’s tougher lead-in could prove an advantage, having them sharper and more battle hardened.
“As an avid All Blacks supporter the struggle I think they will have is they’ve come off a relatively easy three Test window – although it was physical at times. Whereas Australia have come off three brutal Tests. Guys like Noah and Hunter Paisami will gain confidence from that.
“Knowing Dave [Rennie] personally what I love about the guy is he’s willing to pull the trigger. When you’re playing a team like the All Blacks you’ve got to fight fire with fire and as we’ve seen in this last test, there were a lot of test debuts out there.”
All Blacks legend Andrew Mehrtens said Mo’unga had clearly established himself as the main man at No.10 for the All Blacks.
“He has the keys to the car and starting jersey,” Mehrtens said. “It’s not to say Beauden Barrett’s finished but they’re playing different roles.
“When Richie is starting out at 10 – the intensity at the start of a game, the judgement and diligence with which he manages the game from the first whistle is so important.”
Harrison added: “The key trying to stay with the NZ side is to take away the one on one opportunities. They are such a good team together but if you can contain the individuals within that group you’re a chance.
“We saw that happen in the first Test against Fiji with dominance in the breakdown – the second Test that fell away.
“Australia have come out of a series against France where they’ve had to play very well as a team . If they can take that into the All Blacks Test campaign they are a chance.”