Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Stung Aussies sure to be fired up for Bledisloe Cup clash

Michael Cheika, the Wallaby head coach looks on during an Australian Wallabies Captain's Run at AAMI Park. Photo / Getty Images
Michael Cheika, the Wallaby head coach looks on during an Australian Wallabies Captain's Run at AAMI Park. Photo / Getty Images

When All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said he'd be keen to sit down and watch Australia play England tonight, he wasn't just having another gentle poke at Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

Australia will have been in the back of Hansen's mind this week and by tomorrow morning, will very much be in the foreground. A Bledisloe Cup test on August 20 is the All Blacks' next assignment after they finish the series with Wales and they are expecting to encounter fire and brimstone in Sydney.

That much was coming the All Blacks' way long before England rocked up and stole the Wallabies' No2 world ranking and much of their reputation in the process.

It was apparent last year that the arrival of Cheika had done much to stoke the intensity of the rivalry. Much of that was due to the immediate improvements he made: having not beaten the All Blacks since 2011, the Wallabies outplayed New Zealand to win in Sydney - the first Bledisloe clash on Cheika's watch.

He came into the job promising to make the Wallabies tougher, more physically imposing - which they were. But as the All Blacks discovered, that definition perhaps extended to working opponents off the ball.

By the time the two met in the World Cup final, it was apparent there was a growing tension between the two old rivals. Neither side wanted to say or do anything in the week leading into the final that could have been construed as inflammatory.

The rather strained silence spoke volumes - especially as it followed a week where the All Blacks and Springboks had lavished praise upon one another that was driven by a genuine, mutual respect.

And if it had been any other game than a World Cup final, the All Blacks may have aired some thoughts after the test, questioning the number of times they were hit late or played off the ball.

But why give the world the chance to brand them churlish in victory? Whatever was likely to come the All Blacks way in Sydney will now be doubled. And there was already plenty coming at them.

The Wallabies may have lost the series, but it's still a struggle to take in how that happened. For all that England have been hailed as the game's new heroes, Australia dominated territory and possession and played nearly all of the rugby.

It's hard to imagine them being so inaccurate and profligate in the strike zone again and restoring Matt Toomua to their backline should give them greater balance and ability to use Israel Folau more effectively.

It's partly because he's aware of the threat Australia will inevitably pose with ball in hand that has led Hansen to select George Moala at centre tonight. The Blues midfielder is limited in his distribution but more than capable of being a staunch and effective defender. That will matter against Australia.

The return, too, of Will Skelton will give the Wallabies greater physicality and they should have David Pocock back in the mix by then, and whatever has been on show in June is not likely to be what is served up in the Rugby Championship.

- NZ Herald

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