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Dead rubber be buggered! It's kill or be killed in Bledisloe III

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4th September, 2021
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And so to Perth and Bledisloe III, nominally a dead rubber though our countries don’t contest what the Poms call “friendlies”, not really.

Once we don those wattle-gold and black-hued jumpers and hold fists over fern, coat-of-arms and beating hearts, our people are imbued with the immense, tear-jerking pride of belonging to box-above-our-weights, imperfect, ultimately magnificent nation states.

Then we trot onto the pitch to kill each other. Plus it’s round two of the Rugby Championship. So there is that.

“Kill”? Of course not kill. Please. It’s rugby not Rwanda. It’s a metaphor, a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable (it says it on the Internet).

But it is a Bledisloe Cup Test match. And that means beating up on family. For it was dear sweet Julia Gillard who described our nations thus, what their mob calls “whanau”. There are no closer countries, even if our suits are having a spat at board level. (Remember, chaps: self-interest can equal greater good, just be good little Anzacs.)

So the Kiwis are family. And thus, dear sweet Joh Bjelke Petersen! It would be nice to beat up on them in Perth as we did in August of 2019 when the crackerjack new Optus Stadium was filled to burst, and waves of gold came again and again, and the Wallabies won the first Test, a “live” rubber, 47-26, six tries to two, most points ever scored against the All Blacks in 116 years.

Michael Hooper and Ardie Savea go at it in 2019 (Photo by Getty Images)

And we, the people, revelled. And tossed stubbie spume into the air. And in a two-Test series of a World Cup year we believed.

And then we lost 36-0 at Eden Park. And did not drink from the Bledisloe Cup for the 874th time in a row, or something like it. As they say in The Mandalorian: This is the way. Just how things are.

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It’s become such that it doesn’t really feel like our Cup, that it’s just something the All Blacks are awarded to formally commemorate the end of the series.

Which is a bit sad, you’ll agree.

And yet! As ever, there is hope. Cautious, audacious, irrational, are-you-kidding-you-idiot-you-can-get-on-with-me-with-25-and-a-half-start hope.

It’s like a round of golf – you begin even par. It’s nil-all at the haka. And from there you hope at the kick-off the Wallabies won’t launch Darcy Swain at thin air and then score some points while the All Blacks have 14 men and we have a lineout five metres out five minutes into the second half and then failing to hold back the tide and being humiliated 57-22.

Which was bad. Bad Boy Bubby bad. So bad the Kiwis appear to be getting bored pounding us so. Eden Park – which if Carisbrook was “The House of Pain”, needs a scarier name, “Black Death City”, something like it – was half-full for Bledisloe II on a Saturday night in Auckland.

Anyway. We do have hope.

My Kiwi mate Henry was in Perth in 2019 as he has been at every pre-Covid Bledisloe Test in Australia. And for a thirsty third grader and Dorito-eating couch potato is actually a fairly astute judge of New Zealand rugby (and cricket) given the extremely long hours he spends in a man-cave with his mates Stan and Fox.

And Henry, for what it’s worth – and it is as much as the prognostications of Googie, Mehrts and Drewie Mitchell – reckons that the Wallabies have a pretty good show in Perth.

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Samu Kerevi and Izack Rodda are back for Australia (replacing Hunter Paisami and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto) while the All Blacks will be without Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga. The All Blacks, typically, don’t get “up” for dead rubbers. Not as “up”, anyway.

They have been in quarantine while the Wallabies, meanwhile, were visiting schools and rugby clubs.

Henry posits other reasons, all of which you can nod along to, hoping, audaciously, irrationally; thinking 25-and-a-half-start, did you say?

And yet you wonder, back of mind, is he just being nice? Because Kiwis are. They’re like the Canadians of the South Pacific. Look at their Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern. She’s like the most caring school principal ever. Hers is elite-level empathy. She actually appears to feel your pain. She could pat a hand for New Zealand.

And so when my man Henry, the bastard, says the Wallabies will ‘go okay, bro’, you wonder, cynically: is this what it’s come to? Are the Kiwis now giving us a little tickle under the chin for encouragement? Are they, the little brother … patronising us?

They don’t patronise us! We patronise them! It’s the way. Or maybe there’s something in it.

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The crowd – an expected 60,000! Get vaxxed you mad bastards and it can be we in the east again, too! – will be a factor. There is a fair-sized ex-pat rump of Kiwi FIFO workers servicing the mines of mighty Western Australia but the wattle gold will dominate the landscape.

Good: the Wallabies will need a 16th man just as it would be handy if the All Blacks were only allowed fourteen for 41 minutes as they were in that first Perth Test when Scott Barrett was sent off for a clean-out that was deemed a flying shoulder charge of sorts, the big units can run a fine line in these officious times.

Kerevi was there that night in Perth and had a barnstorming game in the 12. Marika Koroibete was destructive, while James O’Connor was enjoying his first game back for a while.

Even Kurtley Beale was there and scored a try. Quade Cooper? No. And nor is he again, the 33-year-old remains a tackling bag in the lead-up to this Test, while O’Connor limps around back in Brisbane. And Kurtley’s in France. And while it would be cool to see the amigos bopping about again, much has been invested in Noah Lolesio. Set and forget. And forgive. This is the way.

And so, probably, is this: All Blacks by 10.

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