Michael Hooper still looms large over the Wallabies with his flanker replacement Fraser McReight saying he’s trying to make the Test skipper proud.
Hooper is on indefinite leave for mental health reasons but watched Australia best South Africa in their Rugby Championship Test at Adelaide Oval.
They will again face the world champions at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium on Saturday, hunting consecutive Test victories for the first time this year.
Playing his fifth Test and first start on home soil, McReight was one of the stars in Adelaide, scoring two tries and forcing a turnover that saved a Springboks’ five-pointer.
The 23-year-old said Hooper messaged him straight after the match to congratulate him on the brace.
Despite Hooper’s absence opening up a starting spot, the Queenslander said he hoped that the Test centurion returned to the game.
In the meantime he planned to make his captain proud.
“He’s been wearing that jersey for decades, so obviously it was a big honour and I want to do him proud and do the jersey proud so I thought I did that,” McReight said.
“He texted me after the game and brought up the two tries I got so he’s probably sitting at home wishing he had scored those.
“I miss him and I want to keep learning off him as he’s one of the greats so hopefully he comes back soon.”
Making his Test debut back in 2020, the Queenslander has served a lengthy apprenticeship behind Hooper, who is among the first picked in each Wallabies side.
But McReight felt it had served him well to learn from one of the game’s “soldiers”.
“Obviously I waited a long time to get that exposure and competing with Hoops for two and a half years was very good for my development in terms of just seeing how he preps – he’s a soldier of the game, a great of the game – to see how he goes day to day and how he backs up from game to game,” McReight said.
“Being his apprentice and learning from him has been wonderful for me.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has made it clear there isn’t room for two specialist openside flankers in the match-day squad and McReight is fully expectant that if and when Hooper returns he will again have to bide his time until another opportunity arises.
Aged 30 now, next year’s Rugby World Cup is likely Hooper’s international last hurrah.
“Who knows – I’m just doing a job for the team at the moment,” McReight said.
“If he comes back and starts at seven, he’s a legend in the game and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Rennie was delighted with what McReight brought to the table against a formidable Boks backrow.
“Fraser has really grabbed his opportunity on the back of good work done in front of him,” said Rennie, referring to the Wallabies pack.
“Hell of an effort for a young seven to get a double and he got his hand on a bit of pill post-tackle so good performance.”
Barrett eager to take chance in 12 jersey
All Black Jordie Barrett has been hanging out for the chance to play second five-eighths in Test matches, and last week’s double whammy of injuries in the position has provided him with a start against Australia in the Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship Test at Eden Park on Saturday.
The injuries David Havili and Quinn Tupaea suffered within minutes of each other in Melbourne have provided him with that opportunity in the most important game of the season, with the Rugby Championship possibly on the line.
Barrett said playing second five-eighths for the All Blacks was a challenge he had been waiting for, for some time.
“I’m comfortable with playing 12, it just presents another challenge at this level. I got a bit of a taste last week. It’s another Test, at Eden Park against an Aussie side that’s hurting so I’m expecting a bit of traffic.”
Centre Rieko Ioane had some empathy with Barrett having had to wait to play his preferred position of centre rather than wing. He described them as ‘a couple of misfits’ in midfield.
Training had gone well for both of them, and he said the fact Barrett was a good talker made Ioane’s job a lot easier.
“Jordie’s a good carrier, he’s got a good pass-kick skill set which is good, it provides another threat to our backline, and just the skills from the back. Coming from fullback you need that vision. With David [Havili] and Quinn [Tupaea] having gone down, he slots in perfectly to suit our backline.”
Ioane said he felt the defensive difference from wing to centre was what had taken him time to adjust. Being a wing, he knew what he wanted from a centre and vice versa. And, as an outside back, Jordie Barrett knew what his outsides would be looking for from a second five-eighths.
Ioane said midfield replacement and Blues teammate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck hadn’t played a lot for the All Blacks this season, but he was learning as much as possible at training.
Playing for Auckland and time spent with the All Blacks’ second five-eighths would only accelerate his adaption, and Ioane said he was excited about what he will bring when playing on Saturday.
Barrett said consistency was something the All Blacks chased all the time, and the truth was they hadn’t been as proud as they might have been about their play in recent times.
They wanted to get better every week, and another big challenge lay ahead this week.
Ioane said: “Australia will be a better side than they were last week. I think both teams are looking to do that. We’re expecting more of last week but at a high intensity.
“Being back at home, we want to lift and play the game that we should have ended on last week.”
PREVIEW: All Blacks v Australia Second Test (Eden Park)
With the Bledisloe Cup wrapped up for 2022, the Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship and a 28-year unbeaten streak at Eden Park are on the line on Saturday night.
Match details: All Blacks v Australia, Saturday 24 September, 7.05pm NZT, Eden Park, Auckland
Won: All Blacks 121, Australia 45, Drawn 8
Last time: All Blacks 39, Australia 37 (15 September 2022)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
CH, CH, CHANGES
Injuries have forced changes to the team that defeated Australia in Melbourne, with captain Sam Cane, Scott Barrett, David Havili and Quinn Tupaea unavailable for selection. Sam Whitelock will lead a side which has welcomed No.8 Ardie Savea back from parental leave. He will slot into a loose forward trio featuring Dalton Papali’i at openside flanker and Akira Ioane on the blindside. With Havili and Tupaea out of the midfield selection frame, the All Blacks have retained a key combination that finished the Test in Melbourne. Jordie Barrett will play second-five eighths while brother Beauden will stay at fullback. The front row sees experienced hooker Codie Taylor selected in the run-on side while Samisoni Taukei’aho will provide cover, alongside props Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Nepo Laulala. Lock Tupou Vaa’i, midfielder Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and outside back Sevu Reece are the other new faces added to the reserves.
With one round remaining in the Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship, all four teams are still in the running to clinch the title. The All Blacks are currently at the top of the ladder due to a better points differential than South Africa who are also on 14 points. The All Blacks will be searching for a bonus point win over the Wallabies to give them the best shot of winning the title. If the All Blacks and South Africa end the competition tied on points, it will come down to who has the best points differential between the sides. For Australia to win the title, they would need to beat the All Blacks with a bonus point and then hope that Argentina tip over South Africa in Durban and deny them a bonus point. The longest shot to win the title is Argentina who would first need Australia to defeat the All Blacks with neither team picking up a bonus point. From there they would have to secure a bonus point win and hope their points differential is better than the All Blacks and South Africa who they would be equal with on 14 points.
There’s no bigger occasion in New Zealand rugby than a packed house at Eden Park for a Test match against the old foe. Although the Bledisloe Cup is already locked away in the trophy cabinet for another year, the All Blacks are treating the game like a final with the Rugby Championship title at stake. Forwards coach Jason Ryan said the side had prepared all week as though they were going into a sudden-death final. “It’s a New Zealand-Australia Test match at Eden Park. There’s a lot on the line, and we’re treating it as a final. We’ve prepared accordingly to expect that,” Ryan said.
Australia may not have won in Auckland against the All Blacks since 1986, but they believe they can storm the New Zealand fortress to claim a win and give themselves a mathematical chance of claiming the Championship. Former Bay of Plenty mid-fielder Lalakai Foketi said the Wallabies had to dig deep when down 31-13 in Melbourne and would take that momentum into the Eden Park clash. “Out there, there was no feeling of disbelief or thought the All Blacks were going to run away with it,” Foketi said. “It was just the belief and the leaders, especially Nard [Foley] coming in, staying controlled, and giving us our next role. I felt like we were still in good stead to keep doing what we were doing and keep in the game.”
Discipline will be key for the All Blacks at Eden Park given the Wallabies hot form from the kicking tee in 2022. The Wallabies goal-kicking success rate of 92% this year is 11 percentage points higher than any other Tier One nation and 14 percentage points higher than the All Blacks. Bernard Foley will assume kicking duties for Australia with accomplished kickers Nic White and Reece Hodge on the bench.
TEAMS (Test caps in brackets):
1: Ethan de Groot (9) 2: Codie Taylor (71) 3: Tyrel Lomax (19) 4: Brodie Retallick (97) 5: Samuel Whitelock (139) – Captain 6: Akira Ioane (18) 7: Dalton Papali’i (17) 8: Ardie Savea (66) 9: Aaron Smith (110) 10: Richie Mo’unga (40) 11: Caleb Clarke (10) 12: Jordie Barrett (44) 13: Rieko Ioane (55) 14: Will Jordan (20) 15: Beauden Barrett (108)
RESERVES: 16: Samisoni Taukei’aho (16) 17: Ofa Tu’ungfasi (47) 18: Nepo Laulala (41) 19: Tupou Vaa’i (14) 20: Hoskins Sotutu (11) 21: Finlay Christie (11) 22: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (1) 23: Sevu Reece (20)
1: James Slipper (c) (122) 2: David Porecki (6) 3: Allan Alaalatoa (59) 4: Jed Holloway (5) 5: Cadeyrn Neville (2) 6: Rob Valetini (26) 7: Pete Samu (27) 8: Harry Wilson (11) 9: Jake Gordon (15) 10: Bernard Foley (72) 11: Marika Koroibete (50) 12: Lalakai Foketi (3) 13: Len Ikitau (19) 14: Tom Wright (17) 15: Andrew Kellaway (17)
RESERVES: 16: Folau Fainga’a (32) 17: Angus Bell (19) 18: Pone Fa’amausili (2) 19: Nick Frost (4) 20: Fraser McReight (7) 21: Nic White (55) 22: Reece Hodge (59) 23: Jordan Petaia (21)
Re-jigged loose forward combination up for the challenge
A changed All Blacks loose forward combination of Dalton Papali’i, Akira Ioane, and Ardie Savea will seek to regain lost ground to Australia in that part of their game in the Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship finale at Eden Park on Saturday.
Ioane said Australia’s loose forwards were impressive in Melbourne and as a changed New Zealand combination, they had to focus on doing their job for the All Blacks. If magic moments happened, hopefully, they were on the right side of them.
By doing their job, Ioane and Papali’i would allow returning No8 Savea to play in the manner that made him so dangerous.
“I’m looking forward to what we can do on Saturday night,” Papali’i said.
The All Blacks were leaving no stone unturned in their preparation as they expected a strong response from Australia to their 37-39 loss in Melbourne last week.
Ioane said it was always special to get a start in a Test, and he acknowledged how well Shannon Frizell and Scott Barrett [both injured] had been playing this season.
“You can’t be mad at the coaches for that. I’ve just got to take my opportunities this week, give my best for the team and do my job,” he said.
Papali’i offered a forward’s perspective on the development of midfield replacement Roger Tuivasa-Sheck this year.
He had grown massively in the All Blacks environment and was a sponge from the time he joined the side, soaking up all the players had to give and share.
“Now he’s at the stage where he’s helping us out with things with his ideas and pointers to make us better.”
Tuivasa-Sheck had adopted a team-first attitude, and if he wasn’t in a team, he set about doing his bit to have the 23 named players ready for game-day action, he said.
The losses the All Blacks have suffered in 2022 had been something of a blessing in disguise from Papali’i’s point of view. They came into a team with a winning mentality but having losses this year was something new for the younger players to cope with, something those players, and New Zealand fans, were not used to.
“It’s us finding our feet again with a lot of new blood coming in and some boys getting more opportunities. I think it’s more of a wake-up call. This is Test footy. This is the best of the best, and you can’t leave any stone unturned training-wise.
“You’ve got to nail your one and two percenters off field leading into games and that is where it all matters. I think it has been a good learning curve for us.”
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