The All Blacks and Wallabies were sweating over fitness issues on Saturday, the eve of their second Bledisloe Cup clash, as both sides talked up a very physical battle.
Australian loose forward Harry Wilson was laid low by an apparent stomach bug and failed to make it to Saturday’s “captain’s run” while All Blacks replacement back Rieko Ioane was nursing a troublesome hamstring injury.
Wilson, on debut in last week’s dramatic 16-16 draw, was an influential figure for the Wallabies as both a strong ball carrier and bruising on defence, qualities which captain Michael Hooper called for in the rematch.
The physical side of the game “will go up another level,” said Hooper, who is expecting off-the-ball niggle as well, saying it was “part of most Test matches.”
It is not uncommon for Australia to perform well in the first Test of a Bledisloe series, only for New Zealand to lift their game in the subsequent matches to retain the trophy they have held for the past 18 years.
To reverse the trend, Hooper said it was clear where the Wallabies needed to improve on their performance in the round one stalemate.
“We turned over a bit of ball at the break down, particularly when we were into their zone. We want to hold on to the ball more, recycle and get it to our players who can make some serious dents and some serious plays,” he said.
“Everyone’s going to go up a level, and the work rate, I’m expecting that so it’s good, great, can’t wait.”
All Blacks skipper Sam Cane, said his side were equally clear about where they needed to improve and it started with the forwards needing to make their presence felt, particularly at the breakdown.
“That’s Test-match footy, in a nutshell, physicality and intensity. As a forward pack, the front eight that’s where we have to stand up and deliver,” he said.
“In every Test match the breakdown is targeted ferociously and they were good in that area last week. I thought we were good in that area as well so, talk about physicality and intensity at the breakdown, they’ll be hugely important.”
The All Blacks have added the uncapped Peter Umaga-Jensen to their squad as possible cover for Ioane if he is unable to play.
If Wilson is confirmed as a late withdrawal then Pete Samu, who was dropped after the first Test, is likely to get a recall.