Results over the last decade suggest the Bledisloe Cup rivalry is dying. But the mood in the respective camps leading into the first clash of 2017 suggests the series has never been in such good health.

And regardless of what happens on the field, the next two weeks should validate the Bledisloe Cup as a symbol of one of the most intense and enduring rivalries in world rugby. The drama should go through the roof on the back of the verdict of the so-called 'Spygate' hearing which is due some time late next week.

One way or another, suspicion between the two teams will rise: ill-feeling will increase too and sparks will inevitably fly when the two meet in Sydney and then Dunedin. The backdrop of Spygate guarantees that the next two weeks will be compelling - that the relationship between the two sides will be tested further.

And this is the key to what makes this rivalry work. There's genuine tension and feeling between the two teams.


The Wallabies maybe don't get how much they mean to New Zealanders. They appear to think that they are held in contempt, not respected, not admired and not liked. The last bit, not being liked, is maybe true but the rest isn't.

What Australians seem to miss is that this All Blacks side is driven by the biggest challenges. They tend to lift, play their best rugby, when they perceive that the occasion is bigger than most and the Wallabies should understand that the Bledisloe Cup, no matter the results since 2003, sets wires snapping and fuses burning within the All Blacks. It says plenty that Ben Smith doesn't want to begin his sabbatical until after the first two tests of the Bledisloe series and it says even more that the All Blacks see retaining the Bledisloe Cup as a higher priority than winning the Rugby Championship.

It still means a lot to beat Australia. It still feels that it's something to be proud of and the Wallabies can simmer away, feeling they don't command respect this side of the Tasman, but they really do.

Even though Australian teams didn't win a single Super Rugby game against New Zealand opposition this year, the All Blacks know the Wallabies will be in their face and more than capable of winning.

"We have got to get the whole squad up to a point where they are ready for battle," says assistant All Blacks coach Ian Foster. "We need to step it up. We have got to rebound [from the Lions series] and come in strong to make a bit of a statement in this championship.

"It was an exciting series and it finished in an interesting spot and we have gone away and done a lot of work on how we could be better. And we have got to make sure that we have learned some lessons.

"We have to start well and the Sydney test has always been a massive starting point for us. We will be playing an Aussie team that has been pretty well prepared these last three or four weeks."

Whatever everyone else may think of the Wallabies, the All Blacks see things differently. There's an argument, a strong one, too, that the Bledisloe Cup rivalry is dying because the Wallabies have only won seven of the 42 Bledisloe tests against the All Blacks since 2003.


It's a shocking record. and one that fairly reflects the contrasting fortunes of the two countries' respective wider rugby development programmes. In that same period New Zealand have collected nine Super Rugby titles, won the Junior World Championship six times and been World Series Sevens champions nine times.

Australia, by contrast, have enjoyed just three Super Rugby titles. But worse than that, they have seen registered playing numbers drop, average crowd sizes at Super Rugby games cut almost in half and the sport entrench itself as the fourth winter code. It all feels a bit desperate; a bit like there is no value at all in the rivalry and that the All Blacks turn up, win and no one really cares because it's all so predictable and familiar.

Yet however much that idea may seem to hold weight, the All Blacks feel it's a million miles from the truth. The All Blacks may have dominated since 2003 but it hasn't been easy. There has been the odd drilling along the way, but mostly the All Blacks have had to scrap to the death to win.

There have also been two draws in the period and with a bit of luck, or composure or maybe both, the Wallabies could have doubled their number of victories and the statistics would be there to back the emotional confirmation about how much the Bledisloe Cup still means.