Wallabies searching for balance in Bledisloe blockbuster with the All Blacks in Sydney

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper leads the way during the captain's run at Sydney's ANZ Stadium on Friday.

CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper leads the way during the captain’s run at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on Friday.

The Wallabies are staring down their best chance in years to secure a drought-breaking Bledisloe Cup win but the last thing Australian fans want to see is a fired-up team pushing passes and drawing yellow cards in the opening test in Sydney this weekend.

Wallabies Captain Michael Hooper knows his side has been guilty in the past of crossing the line between energetic and skittish and aggressive and ill-disciplined, and he revealed that the team leaders had spent considerable time trying to find the balance.

“The line is hard to pick. You’ve got to feel it off your gut sometimes. It’s something that certainly the leaders in our team are constantly working on to try and pick that line,” Hooper said.

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“You want to be fired up and ready to get off the line and disrupt, but when things don’t go your way – against quality teams sometimes they don’t – you’ve got to try and drag that momentum back. Not losing your head, keeping your cool and sticking to your game plan is important.

“That is very much what we’re going to do this week: stick to our stuff, bring ourselves back and play our game. Our game is ready to go for tomorrow night against these guys.”

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Wallabies first five-eighth Bernard Foley says he isn’t fazed by the mind games coming from the All Blacks camp.

They found the balance in June  in Australia’s opening test against Ireland in Brisbane. The Wallabies played hard, aggressive, accurate football to secure an 18-9 win. But they have also played plenty of matches where they have been careless with possession, too easily conceded points, or wound up a man down at crucial moments. Hooper hinted that aggression in defence and attack had been a major work-on for the group.

“We want to maintain possession and we also want to be effective when the Kiwis do have possession,” he said.

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That battle will be fought fiercely at the ruck, where Hooper, No 8 David Pocock and reserve hooker Tolu Latu are expected to bring their specialist skills to the fore. Securing Australia’s attacking ball and looking for quick recycles will be key to the Wallabies game plan.

“It comes down to speed at the ruck, it’s so important at test level . . . being able to retain our ball and slow their ball up,” Hooper said.

“We’re fully capable of scoring points, we showed that in June and at other times. Back row has a fair bit to do with the ruck attacking and defence. Getting that area sorted is paramount.”

Will Wallabies coach Michael Cheika be laughing so hard after Saturday night's Bledisloe opener in Sydney?

MARK METCALFE/GETTY IMAGES

Will Wallabies coach Michael Cheika be laughing so hard after Saturday night’s Bledisloe opener in Sydney?

Hooper will make his  return on Saturday after eight weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring injury that took him out of play in the series decider against Ireland in June.

The 26-year-old has clearly left his team-mates in no doubt about what he expects of them this weekend.

“I look around and I see world-class players across our team. So reaching their potential, into a world class, top team, [the expectation is] exactly that.”

A Wallabies win against the odds would start to chip away at 16 years of disappointment that’s accumulated while the Bledisloe Cup sat in a New Zealand Rugby cabinet.

One more win, at Eden Park or in Yokohama, would be necessary to secure the first series win since 2002, but the Wallabies were firmly in the bubble on Friday, focused on the task at hand.

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Here’s the All Blacks team for the first Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

“There’s no easy way around this thing. It’s going to be hard, and that’s why different teams and different players have struggled over the course of however many years,” Hooper said.

“It is going to be hard, and we like it that way, we like that we get the first test in Sydney. It’s always fun to come out here . . . bring it on.”

 – Sydney Morning Herald

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